Man led by rope says video of arrest made him feel shame

Houston — A homeless black man who was led by a rope by two white officers on horseback in a southeast Texas city said he was overcome with shame after watching video of his arrest.

Donald Neely told the Houston Chronicle he wasn’t embarrassed as he walked between the officers’ horses when he was arrested in Galveston on August 3, accusing him of criminal trespassing. But that changed after he saw his arrest on police body camera footage that was released publicly on Wednesday.

“It came back and hurt me because I did not know I was getting video recorded by the public. Now I feel embarrassed,” Neely told the newspaper during an interview at a restaurant near his sister’s home in suburban Houston. Galveston, where Neely had been living on the streets since 2016, is about 50 miles southeast of Houston.

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Neely has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and he said he hopes the image of him handcuffed and being led through the streets of Galveston will prompt a broader conversation about how police handle mentally ill suspects.

Images shared online of the two officers leading Neely using a rope tied to his handcuffs — reminiscent of pictures showing slaves in chains — sparked public outrage. In the video, one officer can be heard twice saying that leading Neely by rope down city streets would look “bad.”

A Texas Rangers investigation determined the officers didn’t break the law. The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office also conducted a review.

Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale, who is black, said Friday that he is reviewing the sheriff’s department report on the arrest to determine whether any further action will be taken against the two officers. He said the officers could have handled Neely’s arrest better but added that they did a good job of keeping Neely calm during the process.

Neely, 43, said he doesn’t harbor any ill will toward the officers. But he believes it’s a waste of time and money to arrest him when he isn’t harming anyone. He’s been arrested nearly 50 times, mostly for trespassing.

Neely’s attorney, Julie Ketterman, said her client’s treatment was unacceptable and she is considering filing a lawsuit alleging his civil rights were violated.

Before his arrest last month, Neely had repeatedly resisted his family’s efforts to bring him home. But since then, he has begun piecing his life back together. He entered a Houston treatment center for three weeks, moved in with his sister, Taranette, and her family, and is taking daily medication.

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The oldest of five siblings, Neely moved with his family from Florida to Texas City during childhood and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at a young age.

He was treated as a problem child by the education system, shuffled in and out of classes for students with behavioral problems during high school, his sister said.

Neely dropped out of school and got caught up in petty crime. He said he refuses to view his mental illness as a reason for shame.

“It’s a title,” Neely said. “It’s not authentic. It’s not going to stick. Every time they label me with a mental illness or as a paranoid schizophrenic, it rolls straight off.”

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