HOUSTON Jury selection has begun in the first trial of a former Houston police officer charged in the beating of a burglar, a crime captured on a videotape that top elected officials unsuccessfully tried to keep off of television.
Andrew Blomberg is one of four former HPD officers charged in the heavily publicized assault of Chad Holley, a teenager whom the officers kicked and stomped as he lay on the ground.
Blomberg stands charged with official oppression, a crime punishable by up to a year in jail. But in some ways, the misdemeanor trial looks more like a capital murder case.
The trial requires only seven jurors six to deliberate and one as an alternate but lawyers on both sides are questioning each potential juror individually, asking whether they ve seen the videotape and whether they could render an impartial verdict. State District Judge Ruben Guerrero has moved the jury selection to a larger ceremonial courtroom on the top floor of the criminal courthouse. And the former officer is represented by Dick DeGuerin, a high-profile criminal lawyer who s defended everybody from admitted killers to corrupt politicos.
A surveillance camera mounted outside Uncle Bob s Self Storage at 8450 Cook Road videotaped the incident in March 2010. Mayor Annise Parker, HPD Chief Charles McClelland and Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos wanted to prevent the tape from airing on television, but community activist Quannel X obtained a copy and released it to the media.
A number of potential jurors said they d seen the videotape. One of them said in open court, It s hard to watch. Another flatly admitted that media coverage of the incident had convinced her that the officers were guilty.
But the former officer s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said Blomberg was just trying to put the suspect in handcuffs. The burglar, he said, was resisting.
When you look at what Andy Blomberg tried to do, he was a hero, DeGuerin said. He assisted in the arrest of one burglar, then assisted another officer in the arrest of another burglar. And he recovered the loot.
Attorneys for both sides are questioning each potential juror for up to 40 minutes. Even though the jury will be comparatively small, selection is expected to take days.
A small group of activists of representing groups led by the National Black United Front sat in the courtroom this morning. So did Cyndi Payton, the employee of the self-storage business who leaked the videotape.
If you saw the video, y all only saw a twenty-eight second segment, Payton said. It was a minute and 58 seconds of real time. He was stomped, kicked, punched over and over again. It was horrible.
One of the attorneys expressed concern that some of the spectators might affect the jury.
What we re worried about is the activists in the hallway will try to intimidate jurors, DeGuerin said in court.
A dozen officers were disciplined after the incident. Four of them were charged with crimes. Blomberg is the first to go to trial.