After a Texas police department faced backlash over a photo of two horse-mounted officers leading Donald Neely, a mentally ill Black man, with a rope, the department’s chief held a town hall to address the community’s concerns.
On Tuesday, Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale said the officers in the viral photo were set to return to work on Wednesday. While he urged people to “look at the totality of the circumstances,” he also said this incident would be a teachable moment for him and the department, reported Click2Houston.
“I have to learn from it. My agency needs to learn from it. And I commit to you that we will do better,” he said.
He also defended the officers, who he said were not acting with intentional malice.
“I know what the pictures show. I get it. But we have to look at the totality of the circumstances. I also know what I have in these officers, in their hearts,” Hale said before revealing one of the officers was recently featured in a news article.
“He was handing out blankets in the wintertime to homeless. That’s what’s in his heart,” Hale added.
Although Hale defended his men and insisted there was no maliciousness, angry community members and an attorney representing the Neely family said the officers should face consequences.
“It’s not excusable, they should be suspended or fired or dismissed or something,” one woman said.
Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney from Florida who flew into town to help represent Neely’s family, called for the chief to take action and send a message.
“Those officers took advantage of a mentally ill Black man,” Crump told Hale in front of the crowd. “Do you have the courage to do what is right, not just with words, but actions?"
Melissa Morris, an attorney for the Neely family, echoed similar sentiments.
“It’s the judgment of the officers who don’t understand the racial insensitivity of such a tactic,” Morris said to Hale.
“An innocent person wouldn’t have made this mistake. This was sinister,” she told reporters after.
Donald Neely’s brother, Andy, said he was “disgusted” at the "very, very degrading” photos and called for the termination of the officers.
However, Donald Neely’s sister, Taranette, isn’t sure if the officers need to face extreme punishment.
“I don’t know what was going on in [the officers] minds, I just know that they should have thought it through. It didn’t look good,” she told the local news station.
She then went on to say Donald Neely isn’t bothered or offended by the incident.
“He said [the officers] treated him nice, he didn’t have any issues with them," Taranette told Click2Houston. "They were real nice.”
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