HOUSTON – Prosecutors and Houston Mayor Annise Parker on Thursday criticized a community activist's release of a surveillance video that appears to show four former city police officers kicking and stomping a black teenage burglary suspect last year, saying it could jeopardize the cases against the officers.
But leaders in Houston's black community applauded the release of what they called the "appalling" and "outrageous" actions of "rogue officers."
"This never, ever should have been kept from the people," said Quanell X, the community activist who released the video to Houston television station KTRK, which aired it Wednesday evening. "What's on that tape, the world will get a chance to see now how they truly behave in public with young black men."
Quanell X released the video despite a court order by a federal judge in October that had barred its release before the officers' trials. The order was related to a federal lawsuit the teenager, Chad Holley, has filed in which he alleges that his civil rights were violated during his arrest. A court order in the criminal cases involving the indicted officers had also barred the video's release before trial.
A copy of the video was shown to the media on a laptop at a news conference Thursday attended by Quanell X and other black community leaders. He declined to provide copies of it to reporters.
The footage appears to show the officers kicking, punching and stomping on the then 15-year-old Holley during his arrest last March at a self-storage business in southwest Houston. In the video, Holley is on the ground and is surrounded by at least five officers. He appears to be kicked in the head, abdomen and legs by the officers, even after he has been placed in handcuffs.
Police said the teen was arrested following a brief chase after he and three others had allegedly burglarized a home. The teenager's mother has said her son's nose was fractured, and he had multiple bruises and limped after the alleged beating.
The four officers were fired and are set to be tried on various charges.
Holley, now 16, was convicted in October in juvenile court of burglary and put on probation.
Pastor James Nash, with Houston Ministers Against Crime, said he does not condone Holley's behavior and he was correctly punished in court.
"The courtroom is where justice should have been served, not on the street or the sidewalk," he said.
The Harris County District Attorney's office, the Houston Police Department and Parker all had opposed the release of the video before the officers' trial in August.
Parker said in a statement Thursday that while she remains "shocked and disgusted" by what she saw on the tape, the city has supported the district attorney's desire to keep the video from being released before the trial.
"We did not want to do anything that could jeopardize the prosecution of the police officers involved," she said.
The district attorney's office said in a statement that it would "continue to do everything possible to ensure that both the state and the defense are given a fair trial."
But Dick DeGuerin, the attorney for Andrew Blomberg, one of the four indicted officers, said he is concerned the video's release will make it harder for his client to get a fair trial. DeGuerin said Blomberg never beat or hit the teenager but only moved his arm so he could be handcuffed.
"The plain fact is the video is ugly," DeGuerin said. "The tendency is to think that they are all guilty of something, lump them all in the same category. Each one of their actions stands alone."
DeGuerin said he had obtained a temporary restraining order to block Quanell X from releasing the video but that it was ignored.
Quanell X said he obtained the video legally and was not forbidden from showing it.
Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland Jr. said in a statement that he already had taken disciplinary action against the officers and wouldn't comment further "until the last case is adjudicated and or appealed."
Blomberg, 28, along with former officers Phillip Bryan, 45; Raad Hassan, 40; and Drew Ryser, 30, each were charged with official oppression. Hassan and Bryan also were charged with violation of the civil rights of a prisoner. If convicted, each officer faces up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Three others, one sergeant and two officers, were also fired. The sergeant chose to retire and the two others had their firings overturned in arbitration. The city is appealing those decisions.
"They have not regained their jobs. We are doing everything we can to get them to stay fired," said Houston police spokesman Victor Senties.
NOI Minister Quanell X