HOUSTON — A jury's acquittal Wednesday of a former Houston police officer in the alleged beating of a 15-year-old burglary suspect during a videotaped arrest upset black community leaders who criticized the verdict as unjust and racist.
Andrew Blomberg, 29, was the first of four fired police officers to stand trial for their roles in the alleged beating of Chad Holley during a daylight arrest on March 2010. The incident involving the black teen, now 18, prompted fierce public criticism of the Police Department by community activists who called it another example of police brutality against minorities.
Blomberg fought back tears after the verdict was read, then hugged his attorneys and started to cry as he embraced his parents. He could have faced up to a year in jail if convicted of official oppression, a misdemeanor that in this case alleged Blomberg as a public servant intentionally mistreated Holley by kicking him.
"This is the only thing I've ever wanted to do in my entire life," Blomberg said, referring to being a police officer. "And I'm just glad this part is finally over."
He said he will "take a deep breath" before deciding whether to try and go back into law enforcement.
During his trial, Blomberg, who is white, testified that he didn't mistreat Holley and denied kicking or stomping on the teen's head or neck. He said he only used his foot to move Holley's arm after he refused to comply with an order to put his hands behind his back.
Jurors declined to comment after the verdict.
Community activists who were gathered in the hallway outside the courtroom yelled "Racism!" and "Injustice!" after hearing the outcome.
"It is pathetic. It is unacceptable," the Rev. James Dixon of the Community of Faith Church said of the jury's decision. "This kind of expression says to me, to my children and to every black child in the city, 'Your life is not worth manure.'"
Quanell X, the community activist who had released the video of the alleged beating to the media, called the verdict "wrong" and criticized the lack of blacks or other minorities on the six-person jury.
"They knew what they were doing with an all-white jury," he said.
Blomberg denied that his actions during the arrest were racially motivated. To those who insist Holley was treated a certain way because of his race, Blomberg said, "They weren't out there that day."
His attorney, Dick DeGuerin, also said "it is not and was not a racial thing."
"It's been made into that by others for their own reasons," he said.
Asked why there weren't any blacks or minorities on the jury, DeGuerin said most of the African-Americans in the jury pool had already made up their minds that Blomberg was guilty.
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said while she respectfully disagreed with the jury's decision, she also accepted it.
"Our prosecutors conducted themselves with professionalism and dedication to the pursuit of justice. We are prepared to go to trial on the remaining three cases," she said in a statement.
The other officers also are charged with official oppression. Two of them face another misdemeanor as well: violating the civil rights of a prisoner. Their trial dates have not been set.
"They will never again be Houston police officers whatever the verdict is in the criminal trial," said Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who disagreed with the verdict.
Holley testified that he didn't resist arrest and that he briefly lost consciousness during the incident with the officers.
At trial, Blomberg's attorneys told jurors he was next to Holley for less than four seconds before running off to help another officer. The defense also pointed out that Blomberg was accused of kicking Holley on the left side of his head but that photos presented at trial showed the teen's injuries were on the right side of his head.
In the video footage from a security camera, which jurors were shown in court, 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 who appear to kick and hit his head, abdomen and legs.
Prosecutors told jurors Blomberg kicked Holley several times and Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland Jr. testified that he believed Blomberg kicked and stomped on the teen.
Defense attorneys countered he was only trying to secure a potentially armed suspect. Several officers testified supporting Blomberg's claim that Holley was resisting arrest.
Blomberg and the officers told jurors that before arresting Holley, they had been told the teen and several other suspects were potentially armed and dangerous participants in a series of bold daytime burglaries.
The defense tried to portray Holley as a gang member and Blomberg told jurors he thought at the time of the arrest the teen might have been in a gang. Holley denied being a gang member.
Holley was convicted of burglary in juvenile court in October 2010 and placed on probation.
A federal lawsuit Holley filed against Blomberg, the other fired officers and the city of Houston is pending.