GALVESTON, Texas (CN) – An attorney for a mentally ill black man who was tied to a rope by officers on horseback gave police in Galveston, Texas, an ultimatum Monday: Release body-cam footage or the man’s supporters will lead a march through the city next month.
In a Galveston park named for the city’s most famous son Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion in the United States, prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump said the Galveston Police Department has 30 days to produce the footage.
Two Galveston officers on horseback arrested Donald Neely, 43, on suspicion of trespassing on Aug. 3. Bystanders filmed them leading him by a blue rope tied to his handcuffs and posted the footage on social media.
Crump, wiping his brow in the withering Texas heat, said at a news conference Monday the potential Sept. 15 march depends on the body-cam footage and how it portrays the officers.
“If the body-cam footage is released and it displays their content of character, their good character, as the police department has proclaimed, then there will be no need to have a march,” Crump said. “But if that video comes out and it affirms what the witnesses said, that they treated him inhumanely, that they used derogatory terms towards him, then we need to have a march to demand equal justice now for Donald Neely.”
Crump declined to say what the witnesses overheard the officers calling Neely.
The attorney stood on a stage surrounded by local civil rights activists, historians and faith leaders, who joined him in this chorus, “We don’t need to hear your words. Don’t say anymore, just show the video. Don’t say no more, just show the video.”
Galveston officials have tried to contain public outrage over the arrest, which Crump said evoked a captured slave being led to an auction.
At the recommendation of Galveston city officials, the Texas Rangers and Galveston County Sheriff’s Office have launched a joint investigation into the arrest.
City officials said in a statement Monday they expect the body-camera footage will be released after those agencies finish their investigation.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat who represents the central Houston area, has asked the Justice Department to open a probe into the arrest.
Vernon Hale, Galveston’s black police chief, held a town hall meeting last week in which black residents called for the officers, Patrick Brosch and Amanda Smith, to be fired.
Hale said his officers have been trained to use the arrest technique they deployed with Neely in some circumstances, but Brosch and Smith showed poor judgment and should have waited for a patrol car to take Neely to the city jail.
He apologized to Neely for the “unnecessary embarrassment,” but he said the officers were not acting maliciously. He said the department will no longer use this method of transporting arrestees.
Neely’s family has told local media outlets he’s homeless and needs mental health treatment. He’s been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder and he’s had frequent run-ins with Galveston police.
He was not at Monday’s press conference. Crump said, “His family has him in a safe place and they’re trying to get him the help he needs. He just comes across as a loving human being. This man did not deserve to be humiliated like this.”
The news conference at times had the feel of a fiery church service. Bishop James Dixon, leader of the Community of Faith Church in Houston, said in his pulpit voice the outrage is not about Neely’s skin color.
“This was a travesty, a crime against Donald Neely’s humanity, and any crime against any human being is a crime against all humanity, not just black humanity, white humanity, brown humanity, but of all humanity,” said Dixon, a vice president of the NAACP’s Houston branch.
“Donald Neely happened to be a black man but had he been a white businessman, this would still be a crime and a travesty,” Dixon said.
Neely’s arrest was especially poignant given Galveston’s history as the city where the African-American holiday Juneteenth started.
In June 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, a Union Army general reportedly came to Galveston with 2,000 troops, and read an order from a balcony, stating in part, “All slaves are free.”
Tezlyn Figaro, a black media consultant working with attorney Crump, tied Neely’s case to that history.
“This is where Juneteenth started. This is where freedom rang for the first time for the slaves in the South,” she said. “And I want to make it clear that we’re not waiting two years to come back and be told that we are free. . . . The waiting is over. The negro spiritual songs are over, we must move forward with justice and it must be expedient justice.”
Galveston is 50 miles southeast of Houston. One-fifth of its 50,000 residents are black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.