HOUSTON (AP) – A former Houston police officer accused of taking part in a videotaped beating of a 15-year-old burglary suspect told jurors Friday that he didn’t mistreat the teen, insisting he never kicked or stomped on his head or neck as prosecutors have alleged.
Andrew Blomberg testified he only used his foot to move and secure Chad Holley’s arm during the March 2010 arrest after the suspect tried to run away from police who were investigating a break-in.
“Did you intend to mistreat?” asked Blomberg’s defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin.
“No sir, I did not,” replied Blomberg, 29, who was fired after being accused in the alleged violence.
But prosecutors asserted that the video showed the teen wasn’t resisting arrest and that Blomberg unnecessarily kicked the boy, causing his body to involuntarily spasm. Prosecutors played the video as they questioned Blomberg, often advancing it frame by frame to illustrate their points.
Blomberg is charged with official oppression, a misdemeanor, and faces up to a year in jail if convicted. He is the first of four fired police officers to stand trial in the case.
A security camera recorded footage of Holley’s daylight arrest. The boy, who is black, is seen falling to the ground after trying to hurdle a police squad car and then surrounded by at least five officers, some of whom appear to kick and hit his head, abdomen and legs.
A community activist released the video to the media, prompting fierce public criticism of the police department. Black community leaders said they believed Holley’s treatment was another example of police brutality against minorities and that the misdemeanor charges were not serious enough.
The ex-officer told jurors that when Holley fell to the ground, he only used his right heel to yank the teenager’s left arm back, never stepping on his hand or arm.
“I run right up to him. I yell at him, `Get your hands behind your back.’ I don’t see him complying. I use my foot, to try to move his hand back,” Blomberg said, adding he was one of several officers trying to arrest Holley.
The fired officer said he tried again to secure Holley’s arm with his foot before running off to help another officer arrest another suspect.
While questioned by prosecutor Clint Greenwood, Blomberg stepped down from the witness stand and demonstrated for jurors how he tried to put his right foot into the crook of Holley’s left arm to secure it.
Greenwood suggested the videotape showed Holley had his hands on the back of his head as a sign of surrender to police, but Blomberg said he couldn’t tell that from the video. His response elicited groans from some people in the courtroom, who included community activists who have spoken out against the alleged beating.
Greenwood asked Blomberg whether Holley, when he was on the ground and surrounded by officers, was “resisting or threatening you or any other officers in any manner?”
“Other than not putting his hands behind his back, no,” Blomberg responded.
Following Blomberg’s testimony, which lasted several hours, retired Texas Ranger Maurice Cook told jurors that he believes Blomberg “acted as a reasonable officer” when he tried to arrest Holley. Cook now teaches classes on the use of force at a local community college.
Several officers who testified for Blomberg also said Holley was resisting arrest. Blomberg and the officers testified that before arresting Holley, they had been told the teen and several other suspects could be armed and dangerous participants in a series of bold daytime burglaries.
Holley, now 18, has testified that he didn’t resist arrest as he lay on the ground and that officers hit him so much that he briefly lost consciousness. Holley was convicted of burglary in juvenile court in October 2010 and placed on probation.
Blomberg, whose family was in the courtroom, told jurors that he thought Holley might be in the Bloods gang because he was wearing a red shirt. The teenager has denied being in a gang.
Before testimony began Friday, state District Judge Ruben Guerrero denied a defense motion to find Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland Jr. in contempt for discussing the case with the media after he testified earlier this week.
McClelland had told reporters that Blomberg and the other indicted officers should have been charged with felonies instead of misdemeanors.
Guerrero told attorneys in the case to remind witnesses that they can’t discuss their testimony.
A federal lawsuit that Holley filed against Blomberg, the other fired officers and the city of Houston is pending.
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