Former Houston officer testifies in teen beating case
Police had reason to believe the teens, who had just committed a robbery, were armed
By Juan A. Lozano
HOUSTON — A former Houston police officer kicked and punched a black burglary suspect when the teen already was on the ground with his hands on top of his head, a special prosecutor told jurors Monday in describing a video of the arrest.
But the attorney for Drew Ryser countered that while the video shows "a disturbing and aggressive scene," the ex-officer was calm and followed "textbook" procedures to help subdue a potentially dangerous suspect who might have been armed.
Ryser, 32, is one of four ex-police officers who were fired and later indicted in the 2010 incident. He is charged with official oppression, a misdemeanor, and faces up to a year in jail if convicted.
The beating of then-15-year-old Chad Holley prompted fierce public criticism of Houston's police department by community activists, who called it an example of police brutality against minorities.
In video footage from a security camera that caught the March 2010 beating, Holley is seen falling to the ground after trying to hurdle a police squad car. He's then surrounded by at least five officers, some of whom appear to kick and hit his head, abdomen and legs. Police said that Holley and three others had tried to run away after burglarizing a home.
Special prosecutor Tommy LaFon told jurors during opening statements in Ryser's trial that when officers arrest a suspect, their safety comes first, followed by that of the suspect.
But LaFon said Ryser and the other officers mistreated Holley when he was on the ground and surrounded. LaFon told jurors that Holley took a "wailing" from officers.
"It is going to be clear, when officers first make contact with Chad Holley, he's going to be laying face down on the ground with his hands on his head in the prone position," LaFon said. "That's when kicks from these officers and hits from these officers and knees from these officers and punching from these officers ... that's when it all started."
The six-person jury was later shown the video of the beating.
Ryser's attorney, Carson Joachim, told jurors that Ryser, who had belonged to the police department's gang task force, had been called in to help another unit. Officers in that unit had been tracking Holley and several other suspects, believing they had been breaking into homes for several months.
On the day of the arrest, Ryser and other officers were told that Holley and the other suspects had stolen firearms the day before and were probably armed, Joachim said.
"Focus on Drew. You will see he was cool and calm and went through his progression. It was almost textbook. If one thing didn't work, he went on to the next. That is how we want our highly specialized officers to operate," Joachim said.
Officer Tiffany Jefferson, an instructor at the Houston police academy who reviewed the video, told jurors Ryser mistreated Holley because the ex-officer decided to strike the teen instead of handcuffing him, which would be proper procedure in securing a suspect.
"Is there a rule that says if you run from the police, you have to take a whoopin'?" LaFon asked Jefferson.
"That's not a rule that we teach," the officer responded.
Another attorney for Ryser, Lisa Andrews, questioned Jefferson and suggested the video didn't clearly show everything and that Holley could have been resisting arrest.
Andrews also suggested Jefferson, in making her evaluation on use of force, didn't take into consideration that Ryser and the other officers had been told Holley and the other suspects could be armed.
Testimony was to resume Tuesday in the trial, which is expected to last about a week.
Two other former officers charged in the case pleaded no contest and were sentenced in April to two years of probation as part of plea agreements. A fourth ex-officer was acquitted in May 2012. All the fired officers indicted in the case were charged with misdemeanors.
Holley was convicted of burglary in juvenile court in October 2010 and placed on probation. Last year, Holley, now 19, was arrested on another burglary charge, and a judge sentenced him in April to six months in jail and seven years of probation.
Copyright 2013 Associated Press
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