Recording delays police brutality trial

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HOUSTON — A judge on Tuesday denied a request to move the upcoming trials of four fired Houston police officers charged in the alleged beating of a teenage burglary suspect that was caught on videotape.

Attorneys for the ex-officers argued during a 1½ day hearing that their clients could not get a fair trial because of intense pretrial publicity in the case, including the release by a community activist to the media earlier this year of a surveillance video that appears to show the officers kicking and stomping the burglary suspect during a 2010 arrest.

But state District Judge Ruben Guerrero ruled that a fair and impartial jury can be chosen from among the more than four million residents in Harris County, home to Houston. He also said defense attorneys had not presented any testimony from potential jurors about whether their opinions have been influenced by the pretrial publicity.

“The publicity about this case is pervasive, it’s widespread, it’s continuing and it’s derogatory, incriminating to the defendants in this case,” Dick DeGuerin, the attorney for Andrew Blomberg, one of the four indicted officers, said during closing arguments in the hearing earlier Tuesday.

Prosecutor Clint Greenwood argued that other high-profile cases in Harris County within the last decade that have received more pretrial publicity than this one, including the case of Andrea Yates, the suburban Houston mother who drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001. That shows that fair and impartial juries can be chosen, he said.

“If the defense has its way, they are telling the residents of Harris County, ‘You are not to be trusted,’” he said.

The four ex-officers are set to be tried separately on various charges. Blomberg will be the first to be tried on April 16.

The video appears to show the officers kicking, punching and stomping on the then 15-year-old Chad Holley during his arrest in March 2010 at a self-storage business in southwest Houston. In the video, Holley is on the ground and surrounded by at least five officers. He appears to be kicked in the head, abdomen and legs by officers, even after he has been placed in handcuffs.

Police said the teen was arrested following a brief chase after he and three others had allegedly burglarized a home. The teenager’s mother has said her son’s nose was fractured, and he had multiple bruises and limped after the alleged beating.

The four officers were fired and later indicted. Holley was convicted in October in juvenile court of burglary and put on probation.

Blomberg, 28, along with former officers Phillip Bryan, 45; Raad Hassan, 41; and Drew Ryser, 30, each were charged with official oppression. Hassan and Bryan also were charged with violation of the civil rights of a prisoner. If convicted, each officer faces up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

After Tuesday’s hearing, about 11 protestors stood outside the courthouse and held up various signs, including one saying, “Stop Police Terrorism Houston We Have a Problem.”

“It is a small step toward justice,” Krystal Muhammad, one of the protesters with the New Black Panther Party, said about the judge’s decision to keep the trials in Houston.

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Recording delays police brutality trial.