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Officers who led a black suspect through the streets won’t be criminally investigated, state says

Officers arrested Donald Neely, 43, on suspicion of criminal trespassing in Galveston, Tex., on Aug. 3. (Video: Cammarae Peron via Storyful)

Nearly two weeks after a black man was paraded through the streets of Galveston, Tex., by two policemen on horseback, the Texas Rangers, a faction of the state’s public safety department, has ruled that the officers’ actions did not warrant a criminal investigation.

Friday’s announcement is the latest development in the case of 43-year-old Donald Neely, whose ostentatious Aug. 3 arrest on a misdemeanor criminal trespassing charge drew widespread condemnation. For many, the bystander photos invoked painful imagery of captured slaves and cast a negative spotlight on the island city near Houston, where local officials have fielded calls for the two officers involved to be fired.

The Texas Ranger Division falls within the Texas Department of Public Safety and holds investigative jurisdiction over a plethora of major law enforcement operations in the state, including officer-involved shootings, major crime events and public integrity investigations. It was one of two agencies Galveston Police Chief Vernon L. Hale III has asked to review the contentious arrest amid a larger probe into the incident.

“The Rangers subsequently conferred with the Galveston Co. District Attorney’s Office, which determined that there was nothing that warranted a criminal investigation,” the Texas Ranger Division said in a statement. The division added its review of Neely’s arrest determined the officers “had not violated the law.”

Police union says horse-riding officers who led black man by rope didn’t think about ‘optics’

Hale apologized when the controversy reached a forte two days after the arrest, writing in a statement that the officers, identified only by their first initials and last names, P. Brosch and A. Smith, had used “poor judgment” and caused Neely “unnecessary embarrassment."

Softening his condemnation the next day, Hale told frustrated community members that Brosch and Smith had probably “reverted to their training.”

Geoff Gainer, president of the Galveston Municipal Police Association, said in a statement that the image — showing two mounted units flanking Neely with a rope attached to his handcuffs — adhered to widely accepted norms for officers on horseback that were “race and gender neutral.”

“I understand the optics, and I understand the frustration it caused,” Gainer said.

But for others, including some of Neely’s family members, the arrest procedure was abhorrent, regardless of training or policy.

“What they did was real inhumane,” Neely’s brother, Andy Neely, told local TV station KPRC. “They treated my brother as if he was a dog.”

The officers returned to work days later, and Neely was released on bond. Melissa Morris, the man’s attorney, said in an interview Friday that he was previously hospitalized for issues pertaining to his mental health, including bipolar disorder. Local media reported that Neely was homeless for a number of years.

Morris said she did not expect the Texas Rangers to find criminal behavior in the case. But she continues to fight for the release of footage from the officers’ body cameras, which she believes will show the officers “knew the imagery was troubling” when they arrested Neely. The police department previously confirmed their body cameras were activated during the arrest.

She also asserts that Galveston police have not provided any evidence that shows the horse-riding officers were in compliance with the department’s policies. In his statement after the arrest, Hale said the officers could have waited for a different form of transport and vowed to change mounted unit policy “to prevent the use of this technique.”

“The question then became, ‘Where is this policy?’ ” she said. “I don’t believe there was such a policy, especially not in writing, that would have allowed for this in the first place.”

A public information officer for the City of Galveston was not immediately able to provide information on the police department’s mounted-horse policy Friday night.

Neely is resting at the Houston Medical Center, Morris said, where he has received much-needed care and visits from his family. Morris said she is negotiating with city leaders about releasing the body camera footage from that day. She’s prepared to take action, including a possible march Sept. 15 through the streets of Galveston, if the police department “doesn’t give us transparency.”

“We do believe that the chief is trying to address the concerns of the community. We believe he’s acting in good faith,” she said. “But it’s good for everyone if they’re held accountable.”

Alex Horton contributed to this report.

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