Police in Galveston, Texas, are apologizing after a photo went viral online showing horse-mounted officers walking a handcuffed Black man on a leash made of rope.
Police issued a press release about the photo on Monday, confirming that horse-mounted officers had “clipped” a “line” to a man’s handcuffs after he was arrested Saturday on a criminal trespassing charge.
Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale also issued a statement Monday in the press release. He apologized to the man, Donald Neely, 43, who had been arrested on a misdemeanor criminal trespassing charge.
“First and foremost I must apologize to Mister Neely for this unnecessary embarrassment,” he 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 have waited for a transport unit at the location of the arrest.”
Leon Phillips, president of the Galveston Coalition for Justice, commended the chief for immediately ending the arrest technique but hoped to see the officers disciplined.
“With the climate in the 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,” Phillips said.
Phillips also worried about the lasting impact the photo could have on the city’s tourist-heavy economy and questioned why the officers didn’t wait on the scene.
“Stay there with him instead of humiliating him,” he said. “And now you’ve humiliated the whole city of Galveston because everybody who sees it is going to have an opinion.”
Phillips also said the image reminded him of racist images from the 1920s. He said he didn’t know the officers personally, but the optics of the photo was shocking.
“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’s doesn’t make sense, period,” he said. “And I do understand this — if it was a white man, I guarantee it wouldn’t have happened.”
James Douglas, president of Houston’s NAACP chapter, also responded to the photo, saying it showed a lack of respect for people of color.
“This is 2019 and not 1819,” he said in an email. “I am happy to know that Chief Vernon [Hale] issued an apology and indicated that the act showed poor judgement, but it also shows poor training. Even though the chief indicated that the technique would be discontinued he failed to address the lack of respect demonstrate by the officers in the episode.”
The police statement went on to say that the officers, identified only as P. Brosch and A. Smith, did not have malicious intentions during the arrest. Hale said the department has changed the policy to prevent this technique from being used again.
“[We] will review all mounted training and procedures for more appropriate methods,” he said.
The release said Neely was arrested for criminal trespassing at 306 22nd Street in Galveston. Neely had reportedly been warned against trespassing at that location several times, the release said.
The officers were leading him to 21st and Market about eight blocks away, where the mounted patrol unit was staging. Body cameras were activated at the time, the release said.
Neely is free on bond. He has no listed telephone number and couldn’t be reached for comment.
This is 2019.