Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale did a commendable thing Tuesday night. He stood before a crowd of perhaps 200 outraged residents and took responsibility for a huge mistake a couple of his officers made in handling what should have been a routine misdemeanor arrest.

The handling of that arrest had offended people all over the world, tarnished the city’s reputation and undermined public confidence in the police.

Hale’s appearance at a town hall Tuesday was a good start, but the city’s work in righting this wrong is not finished and the responsibility for completing the work goes beyond the police chief to its elected leaders.

At issue, of course, was the arrest Saturday of Donald Neely, 43, on a criminal trespass charge. Neely, who, according to an attorney representing his family, is mentally ill and had been living on the streets for months. He had been arrested about a half dozen times before for the same infraction, according to the police.

Saturday’s encounter with Galveston officers would have been no different than the others, except for the horses, the rope and the cameras.

As most people have heard by now, the mounted officers who arrested Neely affixed a rope to his handcuffs and led him along downtown streets, apparently with the intent of transferring him to a patrol vehicle. People took photographs of the two white officers on horseback leading a tethered black man afoot along a street, and within hours Galveston was ground zero of the latest racial outrage in a season of racial outrage.

On Tuesday night at a meeting the Galveston chapter of the NAACP had organized, Hale did what good leaders do. He acknowledged that his subordinates had used bad judgment, took responsibility for their failing and his own, and apologized.

“I didn’t have the foresight to see that I didn’t have all of the proper controls in place,” Hale said.

The questions now are what more should the city do, and what more can it do given the rules it must follow.

A lot of people at the meeting Tuesday called for the two officers to be fired. It’s questionable whether that would be a just response. For all most of us know now, those two junior officers were doing exactly as they had been told. If firing needs to be done, it might be higher up the chain of command.

It’s even more questionable whether firing the officers would be practical in this case. Unlike most of us in this right-to-work state, Galveston police officers are protected by civil service rules. The city has to navigate those very carefully or risk having its decisions reversed on appeal and owing the fired officers back pay and other legal damages.

That has happened here before with officers fired for infractions in which bad intent was far more apparent and provable than it is in this case.

Be that as it may, the city’s elected leadership can’t just put its head down and hope this all blows over. There should be a real investigation, a real questioning about whether the department’s policies and training practices are effective and about whether the department is hiring officers best suited to work in a diverse community.

What people want, and deserve, in this case is satisfaction that justice ultimately has been done and made public.

It’s not at all clear right now what that justice would look like, but elected leaders should be giving the question hard consideration.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com

(17) comments

Carlos Ponce

Once again, I do not fault the mounted police officers. The officers had radios and body cams. The officers were reacting as trained, followed procedure and were monitored each step of the way via radio. Their actions monitored by body cam - video to be reviewed by upper echelons. I'd hate to see every police action monitored live by a lawyer. That's what they did to the US military during the Obama years. That was crazy and expensive and cost American lives.

Clinton Stevens

The media coverage of this has been absolutely despicable, fanning the flames instead of reporting the facts.



A good start towards justice would be an apology to these officers who have been threatened, vilified and labeled as racists when nothing could be farther from the truth.

Emile Pope

"officers who have been threatened, vilified and labeled as racists when nothing could be farther from the truth." Do you have any proof to support anything you've written?

Carlos Ponce

Proof is provided in grand jury proceedings and acquittals of those officers brought to trial. Even the Michael Brown shooting was investigated by Eric Holder's Justice Department during the Obama administration and yet they found NO FAULT by the police officer who was then"threatened, vilified and labeled as racist". Only a handful of officers nationwide have been found guilty but racism is rarely the cause. But looking at the anti-police rhetoric in social media ......

There was a GPD police officer named Emile Pope Sr. (may he rest in peace) yet it seems that this Emile Pope has a negative attitude towards all police. I wonder why.[unsure]

Emile Pope

Holding people, even law enforcement, accountable for their actions isn't considered a negative attitude. It's done in every walk of life. And no one should be given a free pass simply because of the job they have. Especially those who have literally the power of life or death in their hands...

Carlos Ponce

If they did not follow verified procedure they could have been FIRED.

Donna Fraley

I agree 1000%, Clint! The news has been incorrect and inflammatory. LED by a ROPE. Not true!

Bailey Jones

I think we should all just take a deep breath and move on. The officers, the chief, the GPD and the whole city have been embarrassed enough.

Carlos Ponce

It is water under the bridge, Bailey but the men and women in blue have had their character maligned by a group of arm chair quarterbacks. It's time to stand up for those who put their lives on the line DAILY to protect you and me. If the training is wrong - change it. If the procedure is wrong - change it. If the radioed instructions from headquarters need to be adjusted then do so. But for the paper to print, "a huge mistake a couple of his officers made" is WRONG! Why should the mounted officers be chastised for practices and procedures incorporated into the GPD rule book long before they hit the streets that day? Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale could have driven his own car to pick up the prisoner if he thought detaining and leading him with a sash was sooooo wrong and no other transport was available.

Emile Pope

"The officers had used an accepted method of extracting people from large, dense crowds with horses, Hale said Monday." Was this a large, dense crowd? If not, why was it used?

Carlos Ponce

Would it have been okay with Emile had the perp been left handcuffed and simply led to the pick up point? Probably not. Emile then would have complained that the police were "herding" him like you would cattle. Why attach him to a tethered sash? Remember the UTMB shooting? The prisoner (Dennis Raynard Benson) was handcuffed and leg shackled but still tried to escape.

Emile Pope

Sash:A sash is a large and usually colorful ribbon or band of material worn around the body, draping from one shoulder to the opposing hip, or else running around the waist. The sash around the waist may be worn in daily attire, but the sash from shoulder to hip is worn on ceremonial occasions only.

Carlos Ponce

The sash was a pretty blue.

Alan Waters

We need to bring some non-emotional basics to this discussion. The question is; would the officers have done the same action had the suspect been white or Hispanic. If the answer is yes, then the procedure is the fault. Police action is supposed to be color blind. Granted the acceptable procedure lead to a very bad visual perception of the department. But Chief Hale is correct, the procedure was bad, not the officers. He is a strong leader that will do what is right.

Gary Scoggin

I agree completely.

Craig Mason

I second that

Louis Wortham

A white man was interviewed by Chanel 2 last evening and stated he had been led from a crowd scene with the same tether. He not see how the police actions were racist or unsafe for detainees. Bad optics, yes, bad judgment yes mal intent by the officers, no.



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