Before starting to walk Donald Neely across downtown Galveston on Aug. 3, police officer Patrick Brosch appeared to tell Amanda Smith, his partner on a horseback patrol, that their plan was going to get a reaction.
“This is going to look really bad,” Brosch said.
After encountering Neely on a Saturday afternoon while he slept in the shade of the Galveston Park Board of Trustees building, 601 23rd St., the officers considered their options in how to handle Neely.
As Brosch predicted, the decision to walk Neely between their horses through downtown streets to a parking lot four blocks away looked bad to many observers. After pictures of Neely began circulating on social media, the city and the police department were drawn into a glaring international spotlight and raised accusations of racism and questions about how the mentally ill and homeless are treated.
Critics compared the pictures of Neely being walked between two mounted officers while attached to a line to historic images of slavery and the Jim Crow era. Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale apologized for causing Neely “unnecessary embarrassment” and said the officers used poor judgment while choosing how to move Neely across town.
On Wednesday, almost two months exactly since Neely was arrested, the city uploaded the recordings made by Brosch and Smith’s body cameras. The recordings provided the clearest picture yet of how Neely was treated by the officers, and how they made the decision that led to the controversy.
The recordings were taken from body cameras mounted to the officers’ chests. One is 19 minutes long, the other 27 minutes in duration. The officers’ voices can be heard clearly in the videos, as can parts of Neely’s conversations with them.
Both recordings begin after the officers had begun their interaction with Neely behind the park board building. The officers appeared familiar with Neely.
“You were asked by the property manager not to come back, ever,” Brosch said. “You’ve been arrested here multiple times for a criminal trespass. You know that.”
The officers had a standing order to arrest Neely if he was seen at the park board building, officials had previously confirmed. He’d been arrested for criminal trespassing at the same building six times in 2019.
At times in the video, the officers appear to express apprehension in the directions they received to take Neely into custody.
City officials, including Hale, have said the officers chose to move Neely to a staging area four blocks away because a patrol vehicle had been assigned to the downtown district was already traveling to the county jail because of an earlier arrest.
The officers appear to double-check they have orders to arrest Neely, and then begin to discuss how they should proceed.
A CORDIAL ARREST
Brosch asked Smith whether she should ride back to where the officers had parked their truck and horse trailer and then drive back to Neely, but she dismissed the idea and said her supervisor didn’t like partners splitting up.
The officers attached him to a line and began to walk him across town. Twice, Brosch appears to say he had apprehensions about the decision — even as Neely said he wasn’t embarrassed by the treatment he was receiving.
“This is going to look so bad,” Brosch said. “I’m glad you’re not embarrassed Mr. Neely.”
The video was released Wednesday morning after the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office notified the city it had completed its administrative review of the arrest. On Aug. 8, the city asked the sheriff’s office to conduct the review of the officer’s action amid the intensifying public scrutiny of the arrest.
Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said Wednesday the review was conducted by his department’s two-person internal investigations unit. Trochesset read the review of the investigation and said that, to his knowledge, the police department cooperated with the third-party investigation.
Trochesset declined to comment on the content of the review, and said he wanted to give Hale and the city time to react to it.
The videos show the officers acting cordially with Neely. When Neely is first handcuffed, Brosch helps gathers his belongings and hands Neely a cup of change and a shirt, and puts a welding mask on Neely’s head at Neely’s request. Neely was known to wear a mask around the city before his arrest.
OPEN TO INTERPRETATION
Brosch also would later remove the mask as the horses approached the intersection of 23rd and Church streets, after it appeared Neely was having trouble seeing or walking.
It was at that intersection that Smith gave a warning to Neely.
“Stand next to me because I’m going to drag you if not,” Smith said. “You have to stand next to me.” Two minutes later, Smith told Neely she was trying to make sure he didn’t get hurt while they walked.
That exchange was heard by at least one person who was near the officers while they were walking with Neely. That person told The Daily News in August she interpreted the words as a threat. City officials at the time said Smith’s words could be open to interpretation, and regarded as a word of caution.
Immediately after Smith’s warning, Neely said he wasn’t going to complain and made a comment about not being able to make a phone call. The officers did not drag him.
The officers and Neely walked north along 23rd Street and then east on Market Street to a horse trailer waiting in a parking lot behind the vacant Medical Arts Building, 302 21st St.
‘DIRECTIVE FROM ABOVE’
Cars and other vehicles drove by the officers as they walked with Neely, and the group passed multiple people on the way to the staging area, including one woman who appeared to ask the officers for directions.
Once the officers arrived at the parking lot, they waited for about five minutes before another police vehicle, an SUV, arrived to take Neely to the county jail. Brosch told the officer who was driving the SUV the decision to arrest him was a “directive from above.”
The release of the video does not end the police department’s review of Neely’s arrest. With the conclusion of the sheriff’s office administrative review, the issue now is in Hales hands.
Hale on Wednesday said he would review the Sheriff Office’s report before deciding whether he would recommend any discipline against the officers. Both Brosch and Smith have been on modified duty since the start of the controversy, officials said. The duty is not a punishment, officials said, but does take the officers away from their normal duties.
“I appreciate the efforts of Sheriff Henry Trochesset and thank the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office for taking the time to perform a thorough, independent review of the arrest,” Hale said. “I am studying the report now and will use its findings to make decisions in the near future about the next steps for the department.”
A second outside review conducted by the Texas Rangers concluded there was no evidence the officers committed any criminal violations while arresting Neely.