GALVESTON - A Black man who was led by a rope by two white officers on horseback has sued a southeast Texas city and its police department for $1 million, saying he suffered humiliation and fear during his arrest.
A lawsuit filed last week in Galveston County district court on behalf of Donald Neely, 44, alleged the officers’ conduct was “extreme and outrageous,” both physically injuring Neely and causing him emotional distress.
"He wants these officers to look him in the eye and say we shouldn't have done this and that we're sorry," said attorney Julie Ketterman.
Neely, who has mental health issues, knows that probably won't happen.
"It was a straight-up embarrassment, degrading stuff like that," Neely said.
Photos of the August 2019 encounter showed Neely being led by the officers on a rope linked to handcuffs — reminiscent of pictures showing slaves in chains.
Neely, who was homeless at the time, was sleeping on a sidewalk when he was arrested for criminal trespass and led around the block to a mounted patrol staging area. In body-camera video, one officer could be heard twice saying that leading Neely by rope down city streets would look “bad.”
"They knew. And laughed about it," Ketterman said.
The mounted officers walked Neely down Market Street. It's the same street slaves walked down on the island during a troubled time in history.
The lawsuit accused the city and the department of negligence, and stated that the officers should have known Neely would consider it offensive to be led on the rope “as though he was a slave.”
"Who would be OK with their father or their brother or their son, regardless of his color, treated that way especially if they have a mental illness?" asked Ketterman. "That's what infuriates me."
Neely says the viral video has made him a laughingstock.
"You should have fought that battle all the way down the Strand," he said others told him.
"He has some people saying he's a disgrace to the African American race because he allowed that to happen," Ketterman said. "But yet, if he would have run, then everyone would have said that's what a black man does, he runs. He literally could not win."
In a statement at the time, Police Chief Vernon Hale called the tactic a “trained technique and best practice in some scenarios.” However, he said he believed his officers “showed poor judgment,” adding that the department since changed its policy to prevent use of the technique.
A Texas Rangers investigation determined the officers didn’t break the law. Neely’s criminal trespass charge was dismissed in court. His lawsuit also alleges malicious prosecution connected to the charge.
A spokeswoman with the city of Galveston told FOX 26 the city doesn't comment on pending litigation.
A status conference was set for January.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.