HOUSTON—A woman who discovered a surveillance tape of Houston police officers kicking and beating a burglar wept on the witness stand as she recalled seeing the images for the first time.
“I was very upset,” Savannah Stivender said, clutching a tissue as she answered a prosecutor’s question. “I do believe it was excessive.”
She was the first witness to testify Monday in the case of a former Houston police officer charged with the videotaped beating and kicking of a teenage burglar.
Drew Ryser, who was fired after the 2010 incident, is the last of four officers to go to court in the case. He could face up to a year in jail if he’s convicted of the charges stemming from the beating of Chad Holley, who was running from police chasing him after a burglary in southwest Houston.
Although the videotape shows Holley lying on the ground with his hands raised over his head, Ryser’s defense team told the jury that Holley was “actively resisting” police officers. A supervisor had told the officers that the burglary ring that included Holley had stolen some firearms in a burglary a day earlier, so he warned them to use caution.
“They can strike them with their fists,” defense attorney Carson Joachim told jurors. “They can knee them with their knees.”
As Holley lay on the ground, Ryser’s attorney argued that the former officer quickly turned away from Holley and started working with his radio.
Prosecutors told jurors the officers made a dangerous situation even more dangerous when they started kicking and hitting Holley as he lay on the ground.
The videotape recorded by a surveillance camera mounted outside a nearby business shows Holley running next to chain link fence, then tumbling over the hood of a police car that cut off his escape route. A number of police officers run to Holley as he flips over on his stomach and places his hands atop his head. Several officers then beat and kick him on the ground.
Police, prosecutors and city officials tried to prevent the tape from going public, but it was eventually leaked to the media and it’s been shown repeatedly on local television news broadcasts during the last three years. Authorities worried that the videotape’s release would lead to civil unrest and might prompt the judge in the case to move the trials to another city.
A total of twelve police officers were disciplined in connection with the case and four were indicted. Andrew Blomberg was found not guilty last year. Raad Hassan and Phil Bryan pleaded no contest and were sentenced to two years of probation.