A photo of two mounted white Galveston, Texas police officers leading a handcuffed Black man with a rope evoked imagery of Antebellum-era slave catchers for many, sparking an outrage last week that led the Galveston Police Chief to issue a public apology to the suspect, Donald Neely, and his family. But civil rights activists are seeking more. Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump has requested the release of body camera footage and threatened citywide protests if the department does not comply.
At a press conference Aug. 12, Crump said the Galveston police have 30 days to release the footage, or face citywide protests by civil rights, human rights and mental health advocates and their supporters. Neely is homeless and suffers from bipolar disorder, the family attorney said. Crump said police knew Neely dealt with mental illness, as they had encountered him before.
He was arrested for allegedly trespassing and spent 20 days in jail.
Despite Neely’s struggles, Neely’s sister Taranette Neely said, he is a loving and dedicated family member, and that she is shocked by the way the two officers treated her brother.
“He’s sweet as gold. He’ll give you his last,” she said to CNN’s Don Lemon during an interview. “He has no problem with sharing, loving or just being there for you.”
She said she wants the police officers involved to face charges and for police handling of those with mental health issues to change.
Law enforcement across the country have come under fire for improper treatment of those with mental illnesses. A recently-released bodycam video from the Dallas Police Department in 2016 shows officers pinning down and ultimately killing Tony Timpa, a man who suffered from schizophrenia, had taken drugs and called for help.
Those who suffer from mental illness are more likely to encounter police officers than medical professionals, due to the less-than-ideal state of mental healthcare today.
The Galveston department said in a statement that it understands the “negative perception” of its officers’ choice to lead Neely with a rope, and that it will stop using the practice.
Addressing Galveston police chief Vernon L. Hale III during the press conference, Crump challenged Hale’s apology, during which he vouched for both officers’ morality, saying the body camera footage would reveal if they are of good character.
“Chief Hale, we’re asking you to release the body camera recordings of these officers immediately, and start to heal this community, and in many ways, start to heal America,” Crump said.
The department announced in a press release Aug. 8 that it would be bringing in a third party to conduct an investigation into the incidents. It held a community meeting Aug. 6 for people to voice their concerns.