Family members of Donald Neely, the 43-year-old homeless man who was handcuffed and led by a rope by two white Galveston, Texas, officers on horseback last weekend, said he has struggled with mental illness for years—and that his condition was well documented.
Neely—whose arrest went viral after photos of him walking down the street, flanked by two mounted officers, his hands tied with rope, was shared on social media—has had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for most of his life, his sister Tranette Neely told the New York Times.
Because of his condition, Neely has refused his family’s attempts to bring him home, and he has often slept in the streets. According to his sister, a recent attempt to bring him to his family resulted in Neely jumping out of a moving car.
She also said officers should have been aware of his mental health status because he’s had run-ins with the law before.
From the Times:
Court records show that Mr. Neely had been arrested six times already in 2019 on misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges, part of what Ms. Neely said was a long history of interactions with the police. Court records show dozens of arrests for mostly low-level crimes dating back to the mid-1990s.
In recent years, Ms. Neely said, her brother had stopped taking his medication, and his mental state was deteriorating.
Neely was arrested for trespassing in a commercial neighborhood last Saturday. Galveston police say a squad car wasn’t available to take Neely down to the precinct, so two mounted officers tied Neely’s handcuffs to a rope and walked him about four blocks. An onlooker snapped a photo of the disturbing spectacle, which reminded many of the darkest parts of America’s racist policing past (a past, of course, that isn’t too far behind us).
Neely’s family said he complied with officers because he was afraid one of the horses would kick him, ABC reports.
Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale addressed Neely’s disturbing arrest at a community meeting on Tuesday that Neely’s family attended. Hale, who is black, took responsibility for the incident, said the officers were simply doing the best they could with what they had.
“If they want a pound of flesh, that comes from me, not my guys,” Hale said. He elaborated that leading handcuffed detainees by rope is a “best practice” for situations like crowd control.
“It’s my understanding that these officers—and until we have an opportunity to rest and talk and get to the root conversations, which we haven’t had an opportunity to do—they understand the perception of what people are seeing,” Hale went on. “They want people to understand that they were using tools they were provided to perform a job they were asked to do.”
Neely’s family is calling for the officers to be fired, according to ABC. The local ABC affiliate has also requested footage from the officers’ body camera; it has yet to be released.
“[The police] don’t care to know the whole story,” Tranette Neely told the Times. “You’re a criminal in their eyes. You’ll always be a criminal. Ain’t no redemption for you. You’re trash. And that’s how they treated him.”