Galveston Police Apologize After Photo Shows Black Man Tied to Horse

The Galveston Police Department was forced to apologize after a photo went viral of two white mounted police officers leading a Black suspect in handcuffs with a rope tied to him.

The disturbing image was widely shared and many noted that it was reminiscent of the slavery era, especially how slave patrollers treated those enslaved people who were caught while attempting to secure their freedom. An onlooker took the photo on August 3 and shared it on social media where people expressed outrage and indignation at the police department for allowing the incident to happen.

Police confirmed that Officer P. Brosch and Officer A. Smith arrested Donald Neely, 43, on a charge of criminal trespassing at 306 22nd Street. The department said in a statement that Neely was handcuffed and that a line of rope was “clipped” to the handcuffs. Officers’ body cameras were activated at the time.

Galveston Police said a transportation unit was not immediately available to take Neely. He was reportedly being taken to the intersection at 21st and Market, where the Mounted Patrol Unit was operating from, police said. The two officers were familiar with Neely and “were aware that he had been warned against trespassing upon this specific location several times.”

In its statement on Facebook, Galveston Police said they understood the “negative perception” of the technique and announced they would cease using it.

“First and foremost I must apologize to Mr. Neely for this unnecessary embarrassment. Although this is a trained technique and best practice in some scenarios, I believe our officers showed poor judgement in this instance and could have waited for a transport unit at the location of the arrest,” Galveston Police Chief Vernon L. Hale, III said in the statement.

Hale continued: “My officers did not have any malicious intent at the time of the arrest, but we have immediately changed the policy to prevent the use of this technique and will review all mounted training and procedures for more appropriate methods.”

Galveston Police did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Several civil rights groups found Hale’s statement inadequate. Black Lives Matter Houston criticized Hale’s statement as “weak” and promised to protest the department in a post published on Facebook. “This is police driven white supremacy,” the group wrote. It later shared a video that appeared to show Neely wearing some sort of bag or helmet over his head while he was in handcuffs.

President of Galveston Coalition for Justice Leon Phillips commended Hale for immediately apologizing and forbidding the arrest technique but told the Houston Chronicle that he hoped the officers involved would be disciplined.

“With the climate in the country today, I would hate to see, six months or three years down the road, what kind of judgment these same officers would make in a worse scenario.”

Phillips said that the optics of the photograph were shocking. “All I know is that these are two white police officers on horseback with a Black man walking down the street with a rope tied to the handcuffs, and that doesn’t make sense, period,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “And I do understand this — if it was a white man, I guarantee it wouldn’t have happened.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said it was “appalled by and concerned about” the photo and called for an investigation into the officers. The organization said the photo was reminiscent of slavery and “indicative of a serious problem we have in this country.”

“Trust and legitimacy are vital to law enforcement’s ability to serve those they are sworn to protect. Offensive actions like this undermine both of these tenets. The photo of Galveston police officers leading an African American man down the street with a rope attached to his handcuffs is disturbing and offensive,” ADL Interim Southwest Regional Director Gail Glasser said in a statement.

She added: “Although Police Chief Vernon Hale, III has apologized, the department’s actions have fallen short. We call for an investigation of this incident and the department’s policies and practices as a whole.”

Adrienne Bell, a Democrat running for Congress in the 2020 elections, applauded Hale for his swift response in ending the use of the transport technique. However, Bell noted that questions remained about transparency, community policing, and accountability. “The conversation with the community and law enforcement must continue,” Bell said in a statement posted on Twitter.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.