GALVESTON, Texas (CN) — A Black man whose arrest by Galveston police last year thrust him into the national spotlight because bystanders filmed the horseback-mounted officers leading him with a rope “as though he was a slave” sued the city Wednesday.
Then homeless and suffering from mental illness, Donald Neely, 44, was arrested for trespassing Aug. 3, 2019 by white Galveston police officers Patrick Brosch and Amanda Lohmann.
“Brosch and Lohmann handcuffed Neely, tied to a rope to the handcuffs and led him down Market Street in Galveston, Texas, while riding their horses,” the lawsuit states.
Galveston, a laid-back island city of 50,000 residents that looks out on the Gulf of Mexico, is the birthplace of Juneteenth.
Each year, Black Americans across the country celebrate June 19, 1865, the day Union soldiers came to town, announced the Civil War had ended and ordered the state’s 250,000 slaves be freed, news that reached the city more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Footage of Neely’s arrest went viral on social media and caused a public relations nightmare for the Galveston Police Department, whose Chief Vernon Hale, a Black man, quickly apologized for the poor judgment he said his officers showed by not waiting for a squad car to take Neely to jail.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents the families of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, whose deaths this year at the hands of white police have fueled the Black Lives Matter movement, took Neely on as a client.
Crump held a press conference in Galveston shortly after Neely’s arrest and told the police department he would lead a march through the city if it did not immediately release the officers’ body-cam footage.
City officials tapped the Texas Rangers and Galveston County Sheriff’s Office to investigate the arrest and said they would not release the footage until the agencies finished their inquiry.
When Crump led more than 200 protesters down the city’s palm tree-lined streets on Sept. 15, 2019, Neely was nowhere to be found.
“He didn’t want that to happen,” his new attorney Julie Ketterman said in an interview Thursday.
“He said it was hard enough when people were staring at him when he was being walked down the street,” she added. “Then when he saw when he was on television it just makes him cringe…He doesn’t want the protesting. He doesn’t want to raise a ruckus. He doesn’t want any of that.”
Ketterman said a former client who is a friend of Neely’s sister put her in touch with the family and they hired her in place of Crump.
The transition went off without a hitch, Ketterman said, because the contract Crump had Neely sign was not done correctly.
“None of their documents were even legally binding,” she said.
Once a gainfully employed welder, Neely’s struggles with mental illness and homelessness are evident in his numerous arrests for trespassing by Galveston police going back to 1996.
Ketterman said he is now living with his sister and is on a list for public housing.
“He’s taking his meds and everything. The criminal case I got dismissed four or five months ago,” she said.
A city spokeswoman did not reply late Wednesday when asked if the officers who arrested Neely were disciplined, if the city has changed its policies in response to the controversy and for a comment on the lawsuit.
The city has not formally apologized to Neely and no officers were disciplined for how they treated him, according to his attorney, who said he’s content to stay out of the spotlight, but he would like to get a decent settlement and to be the catalyst for Galveston police reforms.
“You know somebody like Donald Neely could get a decent chunk of money like that and it could last forever,” Ketterman said. “He’s just a very simple guy. It’s not like he’d take the money and buy a car or anything. It most likely would not change his lifestyle at all, except not have to worry.”
He seeks mental anguish damages on claims of assault, infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution and negligence. Both the city and its police department are named defendants.
A status conference is set for Jan. 7, 2021.
The city released the body-cam footage of the arrest Oct. 2 of last year.