HOUSTON – Defense attorneys for an ex-Houston police officer accused of participating in the 2010 beating of a teenage burglary suspect told jurors on Tuesday their client was a "brave officer" who didn't mistreat anyone and that his conviction would hamstring how law enforcement arrests dangerous criminals.
But prosecutors told jurors that Drew Ryser kicked a suspect who already had given up and that his acquittal would send a message that the community tolerates such mistreatment by police officers.
A jury began deliberating Ryser's fate after getting the case following closing arguments in his trial.
Ryser is charged with misdemeanor official oppression and faces up to a year in jail if convicted. He is one of four officers fired and indicted in the case.
The beating of then-15-year-old Chad Holley prompted fierce public criticism of Houston's police department by community activists, who called it an example of police brutality against minorities. Holley is black; Ryser is white.
In the security camera video of the March 2010 arrest, 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 him.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Lisa Andrews told jurors the video "isn't fun to watch" but that arresting felons like Holley is "ugly business."
Ryser's "only interest was to get Chad Holley handcuffed that day, not to mistreat him," she told jurors and a courtroom that was packed with many of Ryser's family and friends. "We are not afraid of the video because when you look at it ... you know he was acting lawfully."
Andrews questioned why prosecutors didn't have Holley testify, suggesting it was because he had no credibility and "because he's a little punk who runs from the cops."
But Tommy LaFon, one of the special prosecutors handling the case, said Holley had surrendered after being knocked to the ground and officers hit him because he had run away from them.
"They were not interested in arresting him. They were interested in putting out a little street justice," he said.
LaFon told jurors Ryser could be convicted if he mistreated Holley or if he helped the other officers mistreat the teenager.
Jonathan Munier, the other special prosecutor, told jurors a conviction would tell the community that everyone, including police officers, must play by the same rules.
"We have to look ourselves in the eye and say, 'Are we going to condone this?'" he said.
But Carson Joachim, Ryser's other defense attorney, said Holley was not a "poor little kid" but a criminal who ran away from police and then resisted arrested when he was caught. During the trial, Ryser, 32, testified his use of physical force against Holley was justified because the teenager might have had a gun.
"These are the individuals this brave officer dealt with every single day," Joachim said, referencing the types of potentially dangerous criminals that Ryser would arrest.
Joachim told jurors they have the potential of sending a "very chilling effect" on law enforcement with a conviction.
"Send the message, 'Well done Drew, well done,'" he said.
Two other former officers charged in the case pleaded no contest and were sentenced in April to two years of probation. A fourth ex-officer, Andrew Blomberg, was acquitted in May 2012. Blomberg was in the courtroom on Tuesday in support of Ryser. All four officers who were indicted in the case were charged with misdemeanors.
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 in April to six months in jail and seven years of probation.
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