Update: Following officer Neville's conviction on charges of official oppression, he was sentenced to just one year of misdemeanor probation, but was not required to surrender his law enforcement officer's license.
Waco, TX — The citizens of Waco have held one of their officers accountable and have found him guilty of assault and official oppression after he was caught choking a handcuffed man on video.
Former officer George Neville claimed he acted in self-defense the night of May 4, 2016, when he grabbed his victim, Qualon Deshon Weaver by his throat and began choking him for no reason. The attack was so unnecessary that even Neville's fellow officers testified that they were "shocked" when witnessing it.
Naturally, Neville's defense team, Bill Johnston, a former federal prosecutor, and Calvin McLean, a Waco police officer for 16 years who worked with Neville before going to law school in 2011 defended the actions of their client and expressed disappointment in the verdict.
“We are very disappointed with the jury verdict,” McLean said after the trial. “Officer Neville served Waco with great distinction for many years. Many important legal issues arose during the case, and for those reasons, Mr. Neville will most certainly appeal the case.”
The incident began during a stop for a minor traffic violation. While stopped, police allegedly found a small bit of marijuana in Weaver's possession, so they arrested him. During the arrest, Weaver voiced his discontent verbally but never became physical.
On the dashcam video, Neville can be heard threatening and provoking Weaver, telling him to "get in my face one more time." Neville then called him a name and Weaver responded by calling Neville that same name.
“He called me a dumbass so I called him a dumbass back, so he started choking me,” Neville said at the time. "You're still innocent until proven guilty. You still have your constitutional rights even if you have a previous criminal history. Law enforcement has to follow the rules and procedures."
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For six seconds, Neville squeezed Weaver's throat cutting off his air. The officers behind Weaver told the court that Neville's actions were "shocking" to them. However, they never did anything to stop it, nor did they move to arrest their fellow officer who had just committed two misdemeanors in front of them, nor did they even mention any of it in their reports.
Not until Weaver himself filed a complaint was the choke ever discovered. Police claim they didn't turn in their fellow officer because they knew he would likely get fired for it. Although they were originally suspended, those two officers, Street Crimes Unit members Kevin Spicer, Adam Beseda, were cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the incident.
According to Neville's defense team, the officer was in "a heightened state of awareness" because the officer who requested back up said Weaver was agitated. Johnston also told jurors that Neville was concerned that Weaver may attempt to head butt or spit on him, so he had no other choice but to halfway strangle the man.
But, likely due to the fact that Weaver was handcuffed and entirely surrounded by police, jurors didn't buy it. What's more, Ricky Bates, a former Marine gunnery sergeant who taught hand-to-hand combat during his military career and then trained thousands of Central Texas police officers over a 28-year law enforcement career, testified that Nevilles actions were entirely out of line, according to the Waco Tribune.
According to the Tribune, Bates, known as “Gunny,” testified during the trial he trained Neville but never taught him to do what he saw Neville doing on the video. He said he taught police recruits to stay away from a suspect’s neck area because of the high potential to cause injury or death.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors Amanda Dillon and Gabe Price explained to the jurors the reality of the situation, noting that Neville lost his cool and Weaver did nothing to deserve that treatment. Prosecutors reminded jurors that verbal provocation is no reason to place a person's life in jeopardy by choking them.
“Ladies and gentleman, Theodore Roosevelt said that no man is above the law and no man is below the law,” Price said. “This defendant is not above the law, and Qualon Weaver is not below the law.”
Neville is now facing a fine of as much as $4,000 and/or a jail term of as long as one year for the two charges.
“Who polices the police? You do. Not because it’s easy. Because, Lord knows, we all would like to believe that every person who puts on a badge deserves that badge and will uphold that badge. But you know what? This man right here doesn’t deserve that badge,” Dillon said, pointing at Neville.