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Officer Rightly Convicted of Beating Teen Suspect

HOUSTON (CN) - A Houston police officer failed to convince a state appeals panel that a videotape of he and three other officers beating a teenage burglary suspect was insufficient to support his conviction on an official oppression charge.

Drew Ryser, 32, was one of four officers indicted on misdemeanor charges and later fired by the Houston Police Department after he videotaped beating of 15-year-old Chad Holley on March 23, 2010.

Two of the officers, Raad Hassan and Phil Bryan, who had larger roles in the incident, pleaded "no contest" in April 2013, and were sentenced to two years probation. A third was a acquitted of the charge in May 2012.

But Ryser fought the charge, maintaining that while it appeared on the video that he kicked Holley in the head, what he was actually doing was move he learned from years of playing rugby.

"It's a rugby move called, unfortunately, a 'stab step,'" he said when he testified in his own defense on June 5, 2013

Ryser, who spent about eight years playing rugby, and considered turning pro before becoming a police officer said his use of the move, during which a player forcefully digs his heal into the ground, was a case of "muscle memory."

A jury ultimately found Ryser guilty after viewing two surveillance videos that showed he and the other officers surrounding Holley after a police car collision, and proceeding to kick and beat him as he lay on his back on the ground, holding his hands over his head.

The officers report said Holly had resisted arrest "by kicking and using closed fists," according to an opinion written by Justice Harvey Brown.

However, a surveillance video from a local business showed Holley "lying on the ground, not moving" when the officers approached.

The business owner discovered the footage after reviewing his surveillance video to see what had damaged the fence along his property; it turned out to be a police car, which had hit the fence and knocked Holley down.

The owner submitted the tape to the police and Quanell X, a local Houston activist, got a copy and released it to the media.

In his appeal to the 1st District Texas Court of Appeals, Ryser argued that despite the video evidence, and his own testimony that he intended to "knee and strike Holley during the arrest," he did not mean to "mistreat him while doing so," the opinion said.

Over hours of testimony, Ryser said when reached Holley, he initially believed the teenager had a gun in his waistband, and that he only punched Holley to prevent him from reaching for it.

"It worked when my brother popped me on the nose as a kid and it's worked on suspects before," Ryser said at trial, the opinion says.

But Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland testified at trial that Ryser's behavior was not proper procedure and described Ryser's actions as "an egregious use of force."

"(It) made me sick to my stomach," McClelland said, according to the opinion.

To convict someone for official oppression, Justice Brown wrote, there needed to be evidence that Ryser knew what he was doing was unlawful. It does not have to be direct evidence of Ryser's mental state; the jury can "draw reasonable inferences from the evidence," he said.

The appellate panel concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and made no evident errors when empanelling the jury, admitting evidence and testimony from numerous witnesses, or even when asked -- and ultimately refusing to dismiss a juror who appeared to fall asleep during the proceedings.

Justice Brown also concluded the jury had not been influenced by outsiders, and concluded they decided the case properly, when they decided Ryser knew that was his was doing was unlawful when he help beat up the teenager.

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