Jury has ex-Houston officer's beating case

AP News
Posted: May 15, 2012 6:31 PM
Jury has ex-Houston officer's beating case

A Houston police officer betrayed his oath when he stomped on the neck or head of a 15-year-old burglary suspect while trying to subdue the teen, prosecutors said Tuesday before turning the case over to jurors.

"Every witness got up there and said no police officers here or nationally are trained in what you see," Harris County District Attorney Clint Greenwood said during his closing arguments, referring to video of the March 2010 beating of Chad Holley.

"It's illegal, it's wrong. That's why we're here."

The officer on trial, Andrew Blomberg, was fired and charged with official oppression following Holley's arrest. Blomberg, who could face up to a year in jail if convicted, is first of four fired police officers to stand trial for their roles in the incident.

Greenwood said law enforcement officers are honorable people who take an oath, and "this is what happens when police officers don't follow their oath."

Another prosecutor, Eric Bily, said thousands of officers face similar arrest situations every day and do so without mistreatment.

"They draw the line between good guys and bad guys," he said. "They don't become thugs."

The 29-year-old Blomberg had testified that he didn't mistreat the teen, insisting he never kicked or stomped on his head or neck as prosecutors have alleged. Blomberg said he only used his foot to move and secure Holley's arm during the daylight arrest after the suspect tried to flee from police who were investigating a break-in.

"He'd been shown to be willing to flee," Blomberg's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, told jurors of Holley. "It is reasonable for officers to use force to get him into custody."

The lawyer added: "The video doesn't tell you everything."

Jurors deliberated for nearly five hours without reaching a verdict before being excused for the day. They were ordered to return Wednesday.

Holley, who is now 18, said he briefly lost consciousness during the incident and insisted he did not resist arrest. The teen was convicted of burglary in juvenile court in October 2010 and placed on probation.

Defense attorneys tried to portray Holley as a gang member. DeGuerin showed photos of Holley making obscene gestures and wearing what could be perceived as gang clothing. Blomberg told jurors he thought at the time of the arrest that the teen might have been in a gang.

Prosecutors said authorities had been unable to tie Holley to gang membership or activity. Holley denied being a gang member.

"It's not about Chad Holley," Bily argued. "Police officers can't intentionally mistreat a suspect."

In the security camera video of the March 2010 arrest, Holley can be seen on the ground surrounded by at least five officers who appear to kick and hit his head, abdomen and legs. Prosecutors told jurors that Blomberg kicked the teen several times. Defense attorneys countered that he was only trying to secure a potentially armed suspect.

A community activist released the video to the media, prompting fierce public criticism of the Police Department. Leaders in Houston's black community said they believed the treatment of Holley, who is black, was another example of police brutality against blacks and other minorities and that the misdemeanor charges were not serious enough.

Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland Jr. testified he believed Blomberg kicked and stomped on the teen.

Several officers testified in support of Blomberg's claim that Holley was resisting arrest. Blomberg and the officers told jurors that before arresting Holley, they had been told the teen and several other suspects were potentially armed and dangerous participants in a series of bold daytime burglaries.

A number of officers were seated behind Blomberg in court Tuesday before closing arguments when state District Judge Ruben Guerrero announced that he had received a call from a Houston police captain telling him that uniformed officers had to leave. DeGuerin said he was outraged by the move. The judge said it wasn't his decision.

A police officers association official said later that the order was intended only for officers who may have been on duty. Several subsequently returned to the courtroom. Jurors were unaware of the flap.

A federal lawsuit Holley filed against Blomberg, the other fired officers and the city of Houston is pending.