The Galveston Police Department is apologizing after a questionable photo surfaced online showing two horse-mounted officers leading a handcuffed African-American man through the Texas city’s street with what appeared to be a rope.
The department addressed the photo in a press release Monday, explaining that officers had clipped a “line” to the man’s cuffs after he was arrested on a criminal trespass charge.
Police Chief Vernon Hale III also issued a statement apologizing to the man, identified as 43-year-old Donald Neely.
“First and foremost, I have to apologize to Mr. Neely for this unnecessary embarrassment,” Hale said in the statement. “Although this is a trained technique, and best practice in some scenarios, I believe our officers showed poor judgement in this instance and could’ve waited for a transport unit at the location of the arrest.”
Neely was arrested and charged with trespassing Saturday near 306 22nd street after multiple warnings to stay away, according to the chief. Officers were seen escorting the man to 21st and Market, where the Mounted Patrol Unit is stationed.
Leon Phillips, president of the Galveston Coalition for Justice, called the optics of the photo “shocking” and said it reminded him of something out of the 1920s.
“All I know is that these are two white police officers on horseback with a Black man walking him down the street with a rope tied to the handcuffs, and that doesn’t make sense, period,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “And I do understand this — if it was a white man, I guarantee it wouldn’t have happened.”
Phillips also praised Hale for his quick response, but said he would like to see some sort of discipline against the police officers involved.
“With the climate in our country today, I would hate to see, six months or three years down the road, what kind of judgment these same officers would make in a worse scenario,” he added.
A lawyer for Neely’s family said the man’s relatives were equally appalled by the snapshot. According to Houston’s KPRC, the attorney explained that Neely is homeless and suffers from mental illness. In fact, family members said the shocking photo is the first they’ve seen or heard of their loved one in three or four years.
Relatives said Neely was “normal,” loving father of eight until a decade ago when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Family members have tried contacting him many times, but Neely has rebuffed their attempts, according to the lawyer.
In his statement, Hale said the officers, P. Brosch and A. Smith, were familiar with Neely and had no malicious intentions during the arrest. He added that the department has since updated its policy to prevent the controversial technique from being used again.
“[We] will review all mounted training and procedures for more appropriate methods,” the police chief said.
Despite the apology, James Douglas, president of Houston’s NAACP chapter, said the department has still failed to address “lack of respect demonstrated by the officers in the episode.”
The officers body cameras were activated during the arrest.
Neely was booked into jail Saturday, and released on bond the next day.