A Texas police department is apologizing for its treatment of an African-American man that the police chief said caused the man “unnecessary embarrassment.”
Photos show two mounted officers from the Galveston Police Department escorting a handcuffed man. One officer is leading the man, identified as 43-year-old Donald Neely, with what appears to be a rope. Neely was arrested and charged with criminal trespass Saturday, according to police. He was released Sunday, police said.
Police said the officer is holding a “line” that was clipped to the man’s handcuffs, not a rope.
“While this technique of using mounted horses to transport a person during an arrest is considered a best practice in certain scenarios, such as during crowd control, the practice was not used correctly in this instance,” police said in a statement. There was no transportation immediately available at the time of the arrest, police said.
The officers showed “poor judgment” and “could have waited for a transport unit at the location of the arrest,” Galveston Police Chief Vernon L. Hale III said.
Galveston police held a community meeting Tuesday to discuss the incident. At a press conference in Galveston before the meeting, civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who does not represent Neely’s family, criticized the police department.
“When they drag Donald Neely down the road by horses and rope, it was like they (were) dragging our entire community down the road,” Crump said.
“This is not 1819. This is 2019. And that image projected back to 1819, as if those were the fugitive slave hunters, and that Donald Neely was a slave being … with horse and rope brought down the street,” Crump said.
Neely family attorney, Melissa Morris, echoed Crump’s criticism.
“This is the behavior in 2019 that we have to deal with. Unfortunately, these police officers lacked the judgment, and the fitness to decide that this imagery that comes from the way that they handled Mr. Neely is painful, and that it just … just dredges up all of these painful memories of the past.”
The department said it understands “the negative perception of this action” and will cease to use the transportation technique.
“My officers did not have any malicious intent at the time of the arrest, but we have immediately changed the policy to prevent the use of this technique and will review all mounted training and procedures for more appropriate methods,” the chief said in the statement.
The officers were identified by police only as Officer P. Brosch and Officer A. Smith. Their body cameras were activated, police said.
Neely had been warned in previous encounters with police to stay away from a location in the downtown visitor district where he was arrested, according to police spokesman Sgt. Xavier Hancock.
Neely spent 20 hours in jail, Morris told CNN. Morris said Neely’s family was looking for him when the photo went viral.
Morris said Neely had been homeless for about seven years. He suffers from bipolar disorder and is not taking medication to treat it, Morris said. Crump said police knew Neely suffered from a mental illness.
“He was treated like an animal paraded through the streets,” Christin Neely, Neely’s sister-in-law, wrote in an emotional Facebook post.
Morris said Donald Neely was known to police from previous encounters while living on the streets.
“I believe they picked him up there because they knew who he was and where he was known to be,” she told CNN. “I believe the choice of the transport method was to set the tone for the interrogation.”
Adrienne Bell, a candidate for Congress who provided the photos to CNN, said the department’s quick response was “truly appreciated” but that many in the community have questions about transparency, community policing, accountability and arrest procedures.
“The conversation with the community and law enforcement, must continue,” Bell said in a statement. “My campaign will be holding a town hall soon, inviting law enforcement leaders to hear the concerns of the people, as we seek to build stronger relationships between the community and officers.”
Bell had previously posted on social media that it was hard for her to understand “why these officers felt this young man required a leash, as he was handcuffed and walking between two mounted officers.”
“It is a scene that has invoked anger, disgust, and questions from the community,” she said on Facebook.
CNN’s Darran Simon contributed to this report.