HOUSTON (AP) — Houston's police chief on Wednesday denied claims that he had made up his mind to fire the officers involved in the 2010 videotaped beating of a black teenage burglary suspect before an internal affairs investigation was completed.
Police Chief Charles McClelland Jr.'s comments came as he testified in the trial of former police officer Drew Ryser, who was one of four officers fired and later indicted over the beating. McClelland was the final person to testify before prosecutors rested their case.
Also Wednesday, the presiding judge warned people attending the trial not to talk to the ex-officer or his family after they had apparently been called names by some spectators outside the courtroom a day earlier.
Ryser, 32, is on trial on a misdemeanor charge of official oppression. He faces up to a year in jail if convicted.
Ryser's attorneys have said he was following textbook procedures to arrest a suspect he had been told might be armed. His attorneys were expected to begin their case later Wednesday.
In video footage from a security camera that caught the March 2010 beating, then-15-year-old Chad 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.
Holley's beating prompted fierce public criticism of Houston's police department by community activists, who called it an example of police brutality against minorities.
While questioning McClelland, Lisa Andrews, one of Ryser's attorneys, suggested to jurors that officials had already made up their minds about the alleged guilt of Ryser and the other officers involved.
"Did you decide to fire all three officers before the (internal) investigation was complete and had to be talked out of it?" Andrews asked.
"No, ma'am. That is totally incorrect," McClelland responded.
The police chief maintained that Ryser and the other officers had mistreated Holley. McClelland said the video showed Ryser kicked Holley on his right side. But Andrews told jurors that Ryser, who his attorneys said was No. 2 in his academy class, was justified in doing that because Holley was resisting arrest.
Ryser's first witness, Lt. Timothy Kubiak, who supervised Ryser in a department gang unit but wasn't at the arrest scene, tried to counter claims by prosecutors that Holley posed no threat once he was on the ground.
Kubiak testified that until Holley's hands were handcuffed, secured behind his back and he was searched for weapons, the scene was not secure. He told jurors Ryser's actions were justified and legal.
"Would you want Drew Ryser back in your gang unit?" asked defense attorney Carson Joachim.
"Yes, it would be an honor," Kubiak responded.
Before testimony began Wednesday, Joachim told state Judge Ruben Guerrero that Ryser and his family had been called names on Tuesday by some trial spectators, including "racist pig" and "child beater."
Guerrero later told courtroom spectators to not speak to Ryser or his family.
"It's not time for anybody to express their views out in the hallway or yell out racial slurs at anybody else. It's time to be civil about it," he said.
The trial, being heard by a six-person jury, began Monday and 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. Three other officers involved in Holley's arrest were also fired, but two later got their jobs back.
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.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/juanlozano70.