The Black man’s hands were cuffed behind his back as two white police officers on horseback steered him through the streets of Galveston, Texas. The mounted officers used a long blue rope to guide the man several blocks under the glare of the summer sun.
Footage of Donald Neely’s August 2019 arrest triggered a national outcry, with the scene drawing comparisons to the inhumane treatment of enslaved people in the 1800s.
According to Neely’s lawsuit, the way he was arrested made him feel “as though he was a slave.” The lawsuit, filed against the city and its police force last week, alleges that Neely’s arrest on suspicion of criminal trespassing was “extreme and outrageous.”
The police chief apologized, and the charges have been dropped, according to Neely’s attorney, Julie Ketterman. But Neely is now seeking up to $1 million in damages for emotional distress, malicious prosecution, and negligence after suffering mental and physical anguish by those who had a duty to protect him, the attorney said.
The lawsuit says he suffered physical and emotional pain, including handcuff abrasions, as he was led on foot to a mounted-officer staging area because no vehicles were immediately available to transport him.
The Galveston Police Department said it would not comment on an active lawsuit.
Neely, who has long experienced mental health issues and was homeless at the time of the arrest, continues to seek mental health support while living with his sister, Ketterman said. “He’s doing his best to get his life back on track,” the attorney said.
Neely, she said, is hoping for a personal apology from the officers and for Galveston police to avoid similar arrests in the future – something the chief has already promised after suspending the technique.
“It’s not just about the money for him,” Ketterman said. “He doesn’t want this to happen to anybody else.”
Body-camera footage released after the arrest showed Officer Patrick Brosch saying “this is gonna look really bad,” as his partner, Amanda Lohmann (previously identified by officials as Amanda Smith), fixed the blue rope to Neely’s handcuffs.
After widespread condemnation, Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale apologized, saying in a statement that the arrest was an “unnecessary embarrassment.”
“I believe our officers showed poor judgment in this instance and could have waited for a transport unit at the location of the arrest,” Hale said in the Aug. 5, 2019, Facebook post, adding that the method used to transport Neely was a valid technique but would be “stopped immediately.”
“We understand the negative perception of this action and believe it is most appropriate to cease the use of this technique,” the department said at the time.
According to Hale, Neely was known to the officers and had previously been warned about trespassing at an office building in the city.
Speaking to the Houston Chronicle last year, Neely said he was unaware bystanders were documenting his arrest and didn’t feel “embarrassed” until the footage was viewed by millions around the world.