Former Astro joins brutality suit over 'riot' at Galveston bar

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Sep. 29, 2010, 4:43am

GALVESTON � A former Houston Astros pitcher is among a number of Galveston County residents who claim that the Galveston Police Department violated their civil rights two years ago during a wedding reception at a hotel bar in Galveston, recent court documents say.

In a federal lawsuit filed Sept. 24 in the Galveston Division of the Southern District of Texas, Brandon Backe and 11 other complainants claim that about 40 police officers subjected them to brutal beatings, excessive force and unlawful confinement. The incident occurred during the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 2008, when authorities were called to a disturbance at the H2O bar at the San Luis Resort. 

The 30-page lawsuit names Galveston Police Chief Charles Wiley and City Manager Steven LeBlanc among the defendants.

Backe is a Galveston native who pitched for the Houston Astros from 2004 to 2009.

According to the original complaint, the incident began when a Galveston police officer working as a security guard at the hotel that morning stopped a party attendee who was walking through the bar to get to his room.

A few of the plaintiffs � including Backe � were reportedly within the vicinity of the hallway where the stop occurred and followed the officer and the partier. The officer then called for assistance and about 20 officers approached the area, subsequently accosting and cursing the partygoers, the suit alleges.

The plaintiffs claim that the officers randomly handcuffed, assaulted, Tasered and pepper-sprayed numerous guests, who expressed shock and confusion over the unfolding incursion.

"At this point, the hallway, the H2O bar, and front of the San Luis erupted into chaos and became congested with arriving officers and plaintiffs," the suit says.
"This led to the patrons attempting to respond to conflicting orders from the police to 'get out' (toward the front of the bar) or 'step back' (away from the front of the bar). Several altercations instigated by the police against bystanders occurred at the same time."

Backe states he tried to pacify the advancing officers when he was grabbed, forced to the ground, and beaten, according to the complaint. Backe also claims he was dragged outside to a police cruiser after the beating.

The pregnant wife of one of the plaintiffs was pushed to the ground by police despite her husband's pleas to stop, and the melee left one man unconscious, the suit says.

The plaintiffs insist defendant Chief Wiley was at the scene, but allowed the fracas to continue.

About 10 people were taken into custody in what authorities labeled a riot, the suit says. A contractor from Alabama in town to assist with post-Hurricane Ike reconstruction efforts was among the arrested and is a plaintiff in the suit.

Backe and the others seek unspecified damages and a jury trial.

They are represented by attorney John A. Irvine of Houston.

U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt is presiding over the case.

Case No. 3:10-cv-00338

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