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Houston jury acquits white ex-officer in beating of black teen

May 16, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | This post has been updated. Please see the note below

HOUSTON -- An all-white jury found a white former city police officer not guilty Wednesday in the videotaped beating of 15-year-old African American burglary suspect Chad Holley, eliciting cries of outrage from community members.

The jury had deliberated for less than a day.

“The jury sent a message that the life of a black man don’t mean a damn thing in Houston,” African American community activist Quanell X told the Los Angeles Times. “I believe the prosecutor never truly intended to convict this cop. I believe that allowing an all-white jury to be impaneled in this case was absolutely wrong and a miscarriage of justice.”

Houston is the country's fourth-largest city and among the most diverse, with an African American chief of police. But Quanell X, a Los Angeles native and leader of the local New Black Panther Party, noted that the jury in this case was chosen from surrounding conservative Harris County, represented by a white, Republican district attorney who began her career as a Houston police officer.

He also noted that the prosecutor in the case, Clint Greenwood, failed to convict another white police officer last year in the shooting of 23-year-old African American waiter Robert Tolan, son of a former Major League Baseball player shot in the driveway of his home in Houston's affluent Bellaire neighborhood in 2010.

“Black people must rise up and send a message to white people in this city and this town that our lives and the lives of our children do matter,” Quanell X told The Times. “We’re at a boiling point where America is headed toward some real civil conflict because of cases like Trayvon Martin and Robbie Tolan and Chad Holley. Black people are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

He said Holley and his mother are expected to speak at 6 p.m. Central Time outside of the local NAACP offices and a protest is planned Thursday outside of the Harris County courthouse.

[Updated at 1:35 p.m. May 16:Harris County Dist. Atty. Patricia Lykos released a statement Wednesday afternoon to The Times noting that she did not agree with the verdict.

"Although I respectfully disagree with the decision, I accept it and thank the jurors for their service," the statement said. "We have the best criminal justice system in the world. Our prosecutors conducted themselves with professionalism and dedication to the pursuit of justice. We are prepared to go to trial on the remaining three cases and request the court to set speedy trials."]

Janice Evans, spokeswoman for Houston Mayor Annise Parker, tweeted that the mayor stands by the Houston police chief’s decision to fire Officer Andrew Blomberg for his role in the beating.

“I certainly don’t agree with the verdict, and I support the chief of police in his actions in relation to these officers,” Parker told a news conference Wednesday morning. “They will never again be Houston police officers, whatever the verdict is in the criminal trial.”

Blomberg, 29, was the first of four fired Houston police officers to stand trial in connection with the alleged beating of Chad Holley in 2010. He had faced up to a year in jail if convicted of official oppression, a misdemeanor.

During the trial, Blomberg denied kicking or stomping the teenager during the March 2010 arrest, and his attorney argued he was simply subduing a suspected gang member. But Holley, now 18, testified that he did not belong to a gang, didn't resist arrest and that the beating he received was so severe, he briefly lost consciousness. 

In security video footage, Holley can be seen on the ground, surrounded by at least five officers who seem to be kicking and hitting him.

Quanell X released the video last year to the media, including Channel 13, prompting public outrage and accusations of police brutality.

Holley was convicted of burglary in juvenile court in October 2010 and placed on probation, according to the Associated Press. A federal lawsuit he filed against Blomberg, the other fired officers and the city of Houston was still pending this week.

Asked after the trial whether he plans to become a police officer again, Blomberg told the Houston Chronicle's Brian Rogers that he would think about it. As for his fellow officers' culpability in the beating, he told the Chronicle: "That's for a jury to decide."

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com  

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