HOUSTON (AP) — A former Houston police officer was found not guilty Wednesday of official oppression in the videotaped beating of a 15-year-old burglary suspect, prompting an outraged response from black community leaders who called the verdict an injustice.
Andrew Blomberg, 29, was the first of four fired police officers to stand trial for their roles in the alleged daylight beating of Chad Holley in March 2010. The daylight arrest prompted fierce public criticism of the police department by community activists who labeled it another example of police brutality against minorities.
Blomberg fought back tears after the verdict was read, then hugged his attorneys and started to cry as he embraced his parents. He could have faced up to a year in jail if convicted of the misdemeanor charge.
Blomberg said he had no regrets and was planning to take a deep breath, reassess and then decide whether or not to go back into law enforcement.
"This is the only thing I've ever wanted to do in my entire life," he said referring to being a police officer. "And I'm just glad this part is finally over."
During his trial, Blomberg, who is white, testified that he didn't mistreat Holley and denied kicking or stomping on the black teenager's head or neck. Blomberg said he only used his foot to move Holley's arm after the teenager refused to comply with an order to put his hands behind his back. The ex-officer said he never stepped on Holley's hand or arm.
Holley, now 18, testified that he didn't resist arrest and that he briefly lost consciousness during the daylight attack.
In the security camera footage, which was shown in court to jurors, Holley 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.
After the verdict was read, community activists in the hallway outside the courtroom yelled "Racism!" and "Injustice!"
"It is pathetic. It is unacceptable," the Rev. James Dixon of the Community of Faith Church said of the verdict. "This kind of expression says to me, to my children and to every black child in the city, 'Your life is not worth manure.'"
Asked whether he thought his action was racially motivated, Blomberg said "no, it was not." To those who insist the alleged beating was racial, he said, "They weren't out there that day."
His attorney, Dick DeGuerin, also said "it is not and was not a racial thing. It's been made into that by others for their own reasons." When asked why there weren't any blacks or minorities on the jury, DeGuerin said that most of the African-Americans in the jury pool had already made up their minds on his guilt.
Prosecutors told jurors that Blomberg kicked the teenager several times and Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland Jr. testified that he believed Blomberg kicked and stomped on the teen.
Blomberg's defense attorneys countered that he was only trying to secure a potentially armed suspect. Several officers testified supporting 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.
Defense attorneys tried to portray Holley as a gang member and Blomberg told jurors he thought at the time of the arrest that the teenager might have been in a gang. Holley denied being a gang member.
DeGuerin called the jury's verdict "the right thing."
"Andrew Blomberg is truly a hero in what he did that day," he said. "I believe that."
After the verdict, prosecutors left the room without making any comments. Donna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the Harris County District Attorney's office did not immediately return calls.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she did not agree with the verdict.
"I support the chief of police in his actions in relation to these officers," Parker said. "They will never again be Houston police officers whatever the verdict is in the criminal trial."
Holley was convicted of burglary in juvenile court in October 2010 and placed on probation.
A federal lawsuit Holley filed against Blomberg, the other fired officers and the city of Houston is pending.