Houston mayor reacts to release of police beating video
Feb 03, 2011 (Houston Chronicle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Mayor Annise Parker reacted fiercely today to accusations that her administration or the Houston Police Department tried to keep the public from viewing footage showing a teen burglary suspect's beating by several officers.
The surveillance video, which aired publicly for the first time Wednesday night on KTRK-TV (Channel 13), shows Chad Holley, then 15, running away from police before he lays on the ground and clamps his hands behind his head.
Houston police officers appear to beat, kick and stomp the teen before and after he is handcuffed. Holley, then a sophomore at Elsik High School, was ultimately booked on a burglary charge and convicted by a Harris County jury. The tape was not shown at his trial.
In response to questions following a severe weather news conference this afternoon at Houston Transtar, Parker denied trying to conceal the footage from the public.
"We have never said that the public shouldn't see this video," the mayor said. "We simply said that we thought the most appropriate place that they see it the first time would be in a court of law when these officers are brought to justice. The frustration is that by the release of this video, it has the strong possibility of causing their trials to be moved out of Harris County, and we don't want to do anything to jeopardize the prosecution of these police officers."
Parker said she also believes that the chance of the officers being held responsible for their actions diminishes if the trial is moved out of Harris County.
"The public absolutely has the right to know this information, and I resent any implication that we were trying to hide the tape," Parker said. "We did everything we were supposed to do when we received that tape. We investigated. We turned that investigation over to the district attorney. We have backed the district attorney and we fired the officers. We didn't believe that the jury pool down here should be tainted because we were afraid there would be an effort to move the trial away from Harris County."
Wednesday night, Parker released a statement saying, in part, that whoever released the video should be prosecuted, but retracted that, saying that it's not up to her to say if someone should be charged. She issued the statement after watching the 10 o'clock news and finding out Quanell X acquired the footage as evidence in a separate court case.
Activist Quanell X acknowledged that he released the tape and was notified later by his attorney, Benjamin Hall, that he may be subject to a court order forbidding the release. The activist received a copy Wednesday in connection with a defamation lawsuit filed against him.
The airing comes months after local news organizations asked a federal judge to release the tape and the same day the teen's civil lawyer attempted to stop the footage from being "leaked" to the public.
In August, the Chronicle and four local television stations asked U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. to allow them to intervene in the federal case pending against two officers.
The media outlets opposed a protective order for the tape sought by Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos and others to keep Hall from giving the tape to journalists and prevent news organizations from airing the footage if obtained.
The news outlets argued that preventing journalists from airing the tape is a violation of the First Amendment, but Werlein ruled that the footage should not be released because the pretrial publication would likely prevent the HPD officers from receiving a fair trial.
Hall said he tried to get an injunction Wednesday evening to prevent the footage from being made public.
Eight officers were suspended without pay while HPD's Internal Affairs Division and the Harris County District Attorney's Office conducted separate investigations.
In June, four HPD officers were indicted on misdemeanor official suppression charges and fired: Andrew Blomberg, Phil Bryan, Raad Hassan and Drew Ryser. Bryan and Hassan also were charged with violation of the civil rights of a prisoner, also a misdemeanor.
Three other officers were fired without being charged: Sgt. John McClellan, Gaudencio Saucedo and Lewis Childress. Five additional officers received two-day suspensions: R.E. Abel III, K.W. Cockrill, M.J. Novak, R.J. Oppermann and I.M. Vaughn.
Parker emphasized that the city intends to take all steps to ensure the fired officers never return to HPD.
"We fired them," she said Thursday. "We intend for them to stay fired. Arbitrators in two of the three situations that have been arbitrated said that they need to return to the Houston Police Department. We are going to fight that every step of the way. They have not gotten heir jobs back and we intend not to allow them to have their jobs back."
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