A photograph of two mounted police officers escorting a handcuffed black man down a street with what appears to be a rope has sparked a social media uproar.
Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale III issued a formal apology Monday night, saying his officers showed "poor judgment" in transporting a trespassing suspect.
The image was taken by a bystander and shared on the internet. A backlash quickly followed, especially among black people who said the photo evoked the history of slavery, racism and violence directed at black people in America.
Adrienne Bell, who is running for a Texas congressional seat, said the photo had created "anger, disgust and questions from the community."
We have verified with law enforcement officials in Galveston, that the photograph taken in Galveston is real. It is hard to understand why these officers felt this young man required a leash, as he was handcuffed and walking between two mounted officers. pic.twitter.com/bEFZnn4qmH— Adrienne Bell (@AdrBell) August 5, 2019
Galveston police identified the man as Donald Neeley, 43, who had been arrested on a charge of criminal trespassing. In a press release, the department said Neeley was handcuffed and "a line was clipped" to him as he was escorted to "a Mounted Patrol Unit staging unit" because "a transportation unit" was not immediately available.
"First and foremost I must apologize to Mister Neeley for this unnecessary embarrassment," the chief wrote on the department's Facebook page. "Although this is a trained technique and best practice in some scenarios, I believe our officers showed poor judgment in this instance."
But social media users conveyed disgust and anger toward the image, calling it dehumanizing and sickening.
Dear @GalvestonPD.— Shaun King (@shaunking) August 6, 2019
What you did here to this man, Donald Neely, is horrible and unacceptable.
I would say "We need answers," but nothing you can say would ever justify what you did to this man. Nothing at all. pic.twitter.com/OdVeqrFDcv
It is unbelievable that it continues to happen in this country. It is inhuman. When are we going to catch up with this day and age ?— Ellen Kourtides (@ElleKourtides) August 6, 2019
The department identified the two officers as P. Brosch and A. Smith, but did not say if they faced disciplinary action.
This is just sickening and uncalled for.— zellie (@zellieimani) August 6, 2019
This young black man was put on a leash while handcuffed between two mounted horses in Galveston, Texas.
This invokes painful imagery of slave catchers and runaway enslaved Africans. pic.twitter.com/ZHEmyCYbUE
An attorney for the Neely family said the man is homeless and is bipolar, KPRC reported. His relatives had not seen him in several years until his image appeared on social media. His sister has gone to Galveston to find him, the lawyer said.
Hale said, "my officers did not have any malicious intent at the time of the arrest, but we have immediately changed the policy to prevent the use of this technique."