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Jury in HPD beating trial ‘at an impasse’

by Doug Miller / KHOU 11 News

Posted on June 11, 2013 at 12:45 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 11 at 7:20 PM

HOUSTON—After a week of testimony and a week of repeatedly viewing a videotape showing police officers beating and kicking a teenage burglar, jurors trying to reach a verdict in the trial of a fired Houston police officer said they’re “at an impasse” and they asked to return again Wednesday for another day of deliberations.

The message from the jury, which came after about five-and-a-half hours of deliberations, raised the distinct prospect of a mistrial in the case of Drew Ryser, one of four fired officers who faced criminal charges in connection with the beating and kicking of a burglar named Chad Holley.

The development came at the end of a day in which attorneys for both sides presented their final arguments, as well as their final interpretations of the events depicted in the now infamous video.

“This is not officers trying to make an arrest,” said Tommy Lafon, one of the special prosecutors appointed to the case.  “This is officers trying to make a point.”

Prosecutors showed the video to the jury one last time, scoffing at Ryser’s assertion that he didn’t kick Holley and arguing the officer’s use of force was illegal.

“What they can’t do is go in and beat somebody because they ran from the cops,” LaFon said. “They can’t do that.”

Defense attorneys, one of whom called Holley “a little punk who runs from the cops,” described the video as ugly but argued Ryser’s actions were justified in the fast evolving pursuit and capture of a potentially dangerous felon.

“If you run from the cops, you’re dangerous,” argued defense attorney Lisa Andrews.  “And they’re not going to treat you with kid gloves.”

Attorneys on both sides told the jury their verdict would reverberate far beyond the courtroom, noting the television cameras and the crowds present during every day of the week-long trial.  Defense attorneys asked the jurors to send a message that the community doesn’t tolerate the behavior shown in the video. Prosecutors implored them not to hamstring law enforcement.

“You basically send a message that we all play by the rules,” special prosecutor Jon Munier told the jury.

“It’s going to be a scary day in our city if Chad Holley is allowed to legally resist in this case,” Andrews argued.

Ryser is the last of four fired Houston police officers facing criminal charges in connection with the March 2010 beating. His partner, Andrew Blomberg, was tried and acquitted by an all-white jury.  Two other former officers, Raad Hassan and Phil Bryan, pleaded no contest and were sentenced to two years of probation.

The video shows Holley, one of a group of suspects fleeing a home burglary in southwest Houston, running alongside a chain link fence. A patrol car cuts off his escape path, he tumbles over the car’s hood, then he ends up face down on the ground with his hands clasped above his head in what prosecutors characterized as a classic gesture of surrender.

Within seconds, police officers who’ve been chasing Holley crowd around him, some of them striking, kicking and stomping him as he’s restrained and placed in handcuffs. 

The dramatic surveillance video shot by a camera mounted outside a self-storage warehouse triggered an angry response from community activists. Elected officials, concerned the video could provoke civil unrest and lead the judge to move the trial to another county, hoped to keep it off of television. But after attorneys who filed a civil lawsuit for Holley obtained a copy of the video, it quickly turned up on the airwaves.

Whatever happens in this latest criminal trial, the lawsuit filed on behalf of Holley is still winding its way through federal court.  Legal experts say the acquittal of Blomberg and the “no contest” pleas from the other officers could help their defense in the civil case.