Two fired Houston police officers accused of beating a black teenage burglary suspect during an arrest that was caught on video were each sentenced Wednesday to two years of probation as part of plea agreements.
Ex-officers Phil Bryan, 47, and Raad Hassan, 43, each entered pleas of no contest to a misdemeanor charge of official oppression. The two men had been set to go to trial on Monday. If convicted at trial, each ex-officer had faced up to a year in jail.
State District Judge Ruben Guerrero accepted the former officers' pleas and sentenced them to two years of deferred adjudication, a form of probation. If the men complete their probations without getting into trouble, their convictions will be dismissed.
The beating of then-15-year-old Chad Holley prompted fierce public criticism of the Houston police department by community activists, who called it an example of police brutality against minorities.
Four officers were charged; one was acquitted last May and another officer's case is still pending. Holley was convicted of burglary in juvenile court.
Defense attorneys and the special prosecutors appointed to handle the case all said the plea deal for Bryan and Hassan was fair.
Holley recently was convicted in another burglary case, and special prosecutor Tommy LaFon said this new conviction was one of several factors he and the other special prosecutor, Jonathan Munier, considered in deciding whether to go to trial. Other factors included the acquittal of Andrew Blomberg, the first officer to be tried in the case, and the lack of serious injuries suffered by Holley, he said.
"There is a risk to go to trial and a risk to both sides. We came up with what was a fair resolution," LaFon said.
Hassan was also fined $750, while Bryan was fined $500. As part of the plea agreements, prosecutors dismissed a charge of violation of the civil rights of a prisoner that each ex-officer had also faced.
"It allows him to move on with the rest of his life," Aaron Suder, Bryan's attorney, said of the plea agreement.
Joe Owmby, Hassan's attorney, said his client accepted the deal because prosecutors presented what "we considered was a fair and reasonable offer."
While the plea deal will result in a 10-year suspension of their peace officer licenses from the state, both men had already moved on from law enforcement, according to their attorneys. Both Suder and Owmby declined to say what their clients are now doing for work.
The former officer whose case is still pending, Drew Ryser, had also been set for trial on Monday. LaFon said Ryser's case may now be delayed, but no decision by the judge has been made.
In video footage from a security camera that caught the March 2010 beating, 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 of whom appear to kick and hit his head, abdomen and legs. Police said that Holley and three others had tried to run away after burglarizing a home.
Holley was convicted of burglary in juvenile court in October 2010 and placed on probation. Last year, Holley, now 19, was arrested on another burglary charge, and a judge sentenced him to six months in jail and seven years of probation earlier this month.
"When we evaluated it, we kind of thought there was a strong likelihood that if we got a guilty (verdict), the jury would give them probation," LaFon said.
Houston activist Quanell X was one of several community leaders who were highly critical of the plea deal.
"It sends the message that police officers are still above the law, that police officers can do things within our community that if we're caught doing we're punished to the full extent of the law," he said.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/juanlozano70