In a video which was widely shared on social media last year, 44-year-old Donald Neely was seen walking with rope tied to his handcuffs while the two officers rode on horseback. The video caused a major online backlash at the time, with viewers comparing it to historic images of Black slaves being walked in chains.
Neely, who was homeless and suffered from mental illness, was sleeping on the pavement when he was arrested for criminal trespass. The two white officers handcuffed him and led him down several blocks using the rope.
After the backlash, the police department issued an apology, claiming that it was a transportation exercise in absence of a vehicle.
Galveston Police Chief Vernon L Hale III said that though the officers “showed poor judgment” and should have waited for a transport unit, they “did not have any malicious intent”. The department also said that they would stop using this transportation technique.
In body camera footage released some months after the first images of the incident went viral, one officer can be heard saying how walking Neely with a rope was “gonna look really bad”.
In the lawsuit filed by Neely in the Galveston County court, he has alleged that the officers’ conduct was “extreme and outrageous”, both physically injuring Neely and causing him emotional distress. The lawsuit also says that the officers should have known that Neely, being Black, would find their actions offensive.
“Neely felt as though he was put on display as slaves once were,” the lawsuit stated.
A Texas Rangers investigation after the social media backlash gave a clean chit to the officers in the matter. Neely’s criminal trespass charge was also dismissed in court. The lawsuit now also alleges malicious prosecution connected to the charge.
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