HOUSTON – Chad Holley took the stand Thursday in the trial of a former Houston police officer charged with kicking him after he tried to run away. Holley recalled the dramatic arrest and beating captured on a surveillance video that was shown to the jury for the first time.
Holley demonstrated how he placed his hands over his head, then described what he felt as officers kicked him while he lay on the ground.
"They started banging away," he testified. "I don’t know. I passed out."
Andrew Blomberg is charged with official oppression, a misdemeanor that could send him to prison for up to a year if he’s convicted. He’s the first of four former HPD officers charged in the case to go to trial.
His defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin, told the jury during opening statements that Blomberg was a "hero" who was simply trying to help restrain a burglar who was resisting arrest.
"He forcefully put his foot on Holley trying to maintain control," DeGuerin said.
The surveillance video shows several officers kicking and striking Holley after the fleeing burglar tumbled over the hood of a patrol car that cut off his escape. Top city and county officials hoped to keep it off of television, but an employee of the business leaked a copy of it that has been repeatedly aired on local newscasts. That employee testified she started crying when she saw the video.
"What happened that day has reverberated throughout our county our state and our nation," prosecutor Clint Greenwood told the jurors, warning they would see evidence that "I think will make you sick."
Jurors are likely to see the video over and over as the trial progresses. A number of the jurors revealed in the first phase of the trial that they had seen the video on television.
DeGuerin urged jurors to consider Blomberg’s actions separately from the other officers depicted in the videotape. His opening statement indicated that DeGuerin plans to argue that if Holley was illegally beaten and kicked, other officers were responsible.
"Andrew Blomberg was at Holley’s side for less than four seconds," DeGuerin said.
Two years have passed since the arrest. Holley, who was 15 at the time, is now 18 years old. He has since been convicted of burglary and sentenced to two years of probation.
Defense attorneys tried to undercut his credibility by pointing out that Holley, wearing a dress shirt and tie in court, posted what he conceded were thuggish photographs on his Facebook page. He also admitted that he didn’t complain about the beating until after meeting with community activist Quannel X, who convinced him to, as DeGuerin said, "make a stink about it."
Lawyers for the officer wanted to move the trial to another city, but State District Judge Ruben Guerrero denied that request. However, he allowed attorneys for both sides to take the extraordinary step of individually questioning each potential juror to determine if they had any prejudices as a result of seeing the tape. That time-consuming process typically happens in capital murder trials, where potential jurors are questioned about their feelings on the death penalty.
The misdemeanor trial requires only seven jurors – six to deliberate and one alternate. All of the jurors seated in this racially charged case are white.