The area is marked by long-standing tensions between the homeowners association in the neighborhood near Rice University, southwest of downtown, and people who have come to use the esplanade for photo shoots, according to local reports.
The city of Houston maintains that the esplanades are public but has been engaged in a long struggle against the Broadacres Homeowners Association, which has argued that the streets and brick sidewalks are owned by the city but that the grass is owned by the Broadacres Trust, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The incident, which occurred Feb. 16, also draws focus on the debate of racism in the United States, after being filmed and going viral. Numerous videos over the past couple of years have shown black people getting questioned while doing an array of seemingly mundane things — renting an Airbnb apartment, barbecuing, swimming at a hotel pool and sitting in a Starbucks — giving rise to the hashtag #LivingWhileBlack.
The video drew a flurry of media coverage and scrutiny to the woman, whom local media reports identified as Franci Neely, a “socialite” and ex-wife of Houston Astros owner Jim Crane. Neely has since issued an apology.
“A week ago, I let my emotions overtake my better self,” she said in a video posted to YouTube on Saturday. “And I apologize from the bottom of my heart. To my family, friends, neighbors and fellow Houstonians, I ask for forgiveness and understanding. I love Houston and ask that we come together to heal, and I extend my hand in friendship.”
The Houston Police Department’s major assaults division is now investigating the altercation, according to spokesman Victor Senties.
The incident occurred around 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 16, he said. The baby’s father, Isaiah Allen, 31, made the complaint about an hour later. Allen told police that he and his wife were taking pictures of their baby when the woman approached, yelled at them and told them to get off the grass, Senties said. Allen said the woman struck him on his arms and hand, Senties said, before leaving the scene.
The police department said it was not releasing the name of the woman because no charges had been filed in the case. Neely did not return a request for comment left with someone who picked up the phone at her home.
The viral video does not capture what had sparked the argument. Allen’s wife, Kelyn, said that the incident began when the woman drove by the esplanade and shouted at them through her window about “trampling the grass that we pay for.” She then got out of the car, and a dispute ensued about the woman’s dog running near the young child. The photographer the couple was working with approached the woman, Kelyn said, to try to defuse the situation.
“The lady tells her that she brought ‘these’ people into ‘her’ neighborhood,” Kelyn wrote on Facebook.
The conflict continued to escalate.
“At this point the lady stomps toward my baby and starts aggressively trying to remove the props placed around her, startling me. The baby, petrified by her aggression, started to scream and started crawling away from her into my arms,” Kelyn wrote. “This did not deter her and she continued — my husband and the photographer quickly approached her to block her from doing this and at this point I started to shout at the lady about her aggression upsetting my child.”
It was about then that the video started, Kelyn wrote.
“These were our first professional shots we have taken of the baby since she’s been born,” Kelyn told Click2Houston. “It was something that was supposed to be very special for us, and I hate the fact that, when I look at these pictures, this is what I have to remember.”
Kelyn declined to comment to The Washington Post beyond her Facebook post, saying that her lawyer had recommended against it.
Neely also had issued an apology last week. She said that she had approached three commercial photography shoots in the area that day and had only gotten into an altercation with the Allens.
“The Broadacres Homeowners Association invests lots of money paying to maintain the trees, grass and walkways in our neighborhood. The high volume of commercial photography damages the property that Broadacres HOA pays to maintain and interferes with dog walkers and others who merely want to walk under the pretty trees,” she said in a statement to ABC 13. “I am very sorry that I got upset on late Saturday afternoon."