An attorney for Donald Neely, 44, says the White officers who arrested the man should have known better.
A Black man from Texas is suing Galveston and its police department for more than $1 million after he was handcuffed and hauled down a city street by officers mounted on horseback.
According to CNN, Donald Neely, 44, was arrested and charged with criminal trespass near a U.S. post office in 2019.
Neely, says CBS News, was homeless at the time. Mounted officers arrested him for sleeping on a sidewalk adjoining a post office. Neely was handcuffed, then led with a rope to a patrol staging area around the block.
In recordings obtained from police body cameras, one officer can be heard repeatedly saying that leading Neely down the street with a rope would look “bad.”
While charges against Neely were eventually dismissed, his case attracted notoriety after photos showed mounted police officers leading the man by what appears to be a rope. Although Galveston later said the “rope” was in fact a “line,” there does not seem to be any practical difference between the two.
Civil rights advocates and protesters have since said that Neely’s arrest is reminiscent of the way in which slaves were treated—a point made by Neely’s attorney, Julie Ketterman.
“[Officers] knew or should have believed that Neely—being a black man—being led with a rope and by mounted officers down a city street as though he was a slave, would find this contact offensive,” Ketterman wrote in the lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month in Galveston County Court.
Ketterman says her client was “humiliated” by the experience.
“Many individuals stopped, stared and asked questions,” the lawsuit states. “Neely felt as though he was put on display as slaves once were.”
However, Galveston police officials defended Neely’s treatment shortly after it hit the news. The city’s police chief, Vernon Hale, called the tactic a “trained technique and best practice in some scenarios.”
“If they want a pound of flesh,” Hale said of critics, “that comes from me, not my guys.”
“It’s my understanding that these officers—and until we have an opportunity to rest and talk and get to the root conversations, which we haven’t had an opportunity to do—they understand the perception of what people are seeing,” Hale said in 2019. “They want people to understand that they were using the tools they were provided to perform a job they were asked to do.”
Hale later admitted that his subordinates exercised “poor judgment.”
Hale noted that the Galveston Police Department has since changed its policies to prevent any recurrences.
Nevertheless, Ketterman told CNN that she and her client decided to sue both to find recompense for Neely and to ensure that nobody ever has to endure a similar experience.
“Donald wants people to know that this lawsuit isn’t just about money,” she said. “It’s about what is right and wrong for all people—whether they are black or white or whether they suffer from mental illness or whether they are homeless or not.”