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Ex-Astros pitcher Brandon Backe says police brutality ended his career

Apr 2, 2014, 9:15 AM EDT

Brandon Backe

I had totally forgotten about Brandon Backe, the Astros pitcher from the mid-to-late 2000s. He hasn’t pitched since 2009 and this story in the Houston Chronicle tells us that, in his view, it’s because of a beating he received at the hands of police officers in October of 2008.

Backe took the stand in the trial of his civil suit he and 11 other plaintiffs have brought against 30 Galveston, Texas police officers arising out of the incident which took place at a friend’s wedding. Backe alleges that he was thrown to the ground, beaten, bloodied and kicked and ended up with a severe shoulder injury that derailed his pitching career.

That this has reached trial means that there is evidence in his favor (if there was not it would have been dismissed via summary judgment prior to trial).That he is a pitcher, however, means that the defense likely has several ways to show that his baseball career was harmed by pitching injuries, not the beating. Given how little we know about how pitching injuries happen, why and how they might be prevented, it’s definitely going to be an interesting question for the jury.

But if the jury finds that the police did use excessive force and caused career-ending injuries to Backe, the damages could range in the tens of millions given what a pitcher of his stature could have stood to make.

  1. pmcenroe - Apr 2, 2014 at 9:32 AM

    Given how poorly he performed in 2008(more than a year removed from TJ surgery) and prior to this incidence, I think it will be very difficult for him to prove the police brutality is the reason his career got derailed. Although the fact he was completely out of baseball by 2009 may help show they screwed him out of some money/years(if they are found guilty) I just don’t see him getting millions.

  2. yahmule - Apr 2, 2014 at 9:37 AM

    Brutality is part of the basic culture of some law enforcement departments. Check out the cowboys in Henderson, NV for a prime example. The militarization of the police post 9/11 is one of the scariest developments in recent memory.

    • chill1184 - Apr 2, 2014 at 9:48 AM

      Radley Balko’s book “The Rise of the Warrior Cop” is a good read on this subject

      • brooksob53 - Apr 2, 2014 at 1:00 PM

        Very good book

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Apr 2, 2014 at 1:45 PM

        This a very revealing look at some of the stuff they’re operating with, and how nonchalant both the givers and receivers of all this military equipment are about the whole program. The monstrosity the SWAT team in a small Tennessee county owns plus the fact they see no problem with it is enough to make me believe god is dead and the war’s begun.

    • cohnjusack - Apr 2, 2014 at 10:09 AM

      How much does police misconduct cost the New York City Police Department in lawsuits and out of court settlements?

      Over $700 million annually. Note: This is the price of judgements, not associated legal fees. This includes one police officer who has been successfully sued for brutality and misconduct on 28 separate occasions since 2006…and has never faced disciplinary action. Where are the small government advocates on that one? Do you realize you could save millions of dollars of taxpayer money by not wrongfully beating the hell out of people?

      It’s one of the most infuriating things I’ve seen in recent history. Not only the brutality, but the fact that they get away with it. In addition, the NYPD was recently in hot water when “Operation Lucky Bag” was revealed, in which a bag with a $20 in it would be left on a park bench. When someone picked up the bag, the NYPD would arrest them for theft. They got sued successfully several times on this one, especially since many people claimed they were picking up the bag to return to its rightful owner. In what universe does such an operation make a city safer?

      Living in New York for the past decade, I have lost every ounce of respect I have for police. I understand they have a hard job, but the institution itself is completely off the rails. As far as I’m concerned, if you are a police officer not actively fighting against this corruption from within, you are complicit in what as essentially become an organization to terrorize the poor.

      End of rant.

      • yahmule - Apr 2, 2014 at 10:17 AM

        That unspoken complicity is the truly intractable problem. Cops protect cops. The ones who resist this idea find themselves waiting around for backup in emergencies.

      • asimonetti88 - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:05 AM

        “Where are the small government advocates on that one?”

        Getting beaten by the cops, apparently.

      • carpi2 - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:41 AM

        You need to think of the psychosocial profile of a person who becomes a cop. A majority have no college education and are attracted to the allure of having a position of power.
        Also, as yahmule pointed out, cops protect each other, which breeds a mentality that they are above the laws, they are supposed to uphold.

        I’m an ex-infantry soldier, and I can say with experience, when you get a bunch of guys with low education, then add in a pack mentality, you have to expect stupid choices to be made. In the case of cops, you also need to throw in the factor that they are lead to believe they are above all laws…yeah not a good result.

      • dondada10 - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:50 AM

        My best friend was sworn into the NYPD two years ago. I wish I could tell you different, but I can’t believe the ways he’s changed for the negative.

      • historiophiliac - Apr 2, 2014 at 1:28 PM

        Actually, lots of cops are required to have a Bachelor’s degrees these days. In theory, they learn about legal issues related to policing then. In reality, they avoided my history of law enforcement class like the plague.

      • largebill - Apr 3, 2014 at 9:33 AM

        “Where are the small government advocates on that one?”

        Actually small government advocates believe strongly that we have far too much government in all areas including police. Over the last hundred or so years, whenever something bad or tragic would happen people collectively screamed at government how can you let this happen or what are you doing to ensure it won’t happen again. The answer from government is always “well, if we had more resources . . . .”

    • moogro - Apr 2, 2014 at 5:27 PM

      Any cop should know that you need to keep the beatings to poor people, preferably off camera.

    • stormstrike - Apr 25, 2014 at 1:34 AM

      Since the laws were changed post 9/11 to make it easier to allocate funds to local law enforcement, congressmen and senators have been showering cops in their districts with grants for shiny new toys, most of them military grade.

      A house or senate member cuts off a few slices in appropriations for their local cops, then schedules dozens of press events during election season in which they hand out the pork like Santa. The cops get riot gear, assault rifles and fancy surveillance tech, and the incumbent politicians get endorsements from police unions and a few thousand cops pulling the lever for them in November.

      There’s a congressmen here in NY who invites print photogs and local TV news crews to come down while he literally hands a smiling police chief an oversize check for, say, $300k, like he’s the dude from Publisher’s Clearinghouse or something. That’s TAXPAYER MONEY and he’s making his oversize checks out like he’s the one gifting the pork out of his pocket. It’s legalized bribery, which is one reason incumbents rarely lose unless they make an epic @#%& up.

      The result? The local police department in East Bumblef@ck rolling out like the 3rd Infantry Division, wearing riot gear and toting assault rifles for things like home evictions and minor distress calls. When you dress like the military, and play at being military, eventually you’re going to start believing you’re a soldier and someone is going to do something stupid like shoot an old man during a medical call to check on his welfare. (True story, Google Kenneth Chamberlain.)

      Every day there’s a new story about ridiculous police aggression and brutality, and the militarization of our cops is a big reason why.

  3. genericcommenter - Apr 2, 2014 at 9:39 AM

    Did they shoot any dogs?

    • yahmule - Apr 2, 2014 at 9:54 AM

      They always do. Most of the time it’s some family pet who is fleeing or cringing in terror.

      • genericcommenter - Apr 2, 2014 at 10:55 AM

        I know. I know. I am aware. Puppycide.

  4. stoutfiles - Apr 2, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    Backe said he could back up no farther and told the officer, “Chill out, we can’t back up. You’ve got enough room.”

    Not that you shouldn’t be able to tell off a group of officers without getting beaten, when they’re in attack mode it’s really not worth the risk. Also, why exactly did the officers attack most everyone there? The story you linked to never says.

    • unclemosesgreen - Apr 2, 2014 at 10:33 AM

      Plus when they told him to back up he thought they were using his name.

  5. kalinedrive - Apr 2, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    Interesting, but now I want to know what made 30 cops bust up a wedding party.

    • Professor Longnose - Apr 2, 2014 at 10:03 AM

      Here’s an article from 2009 with the police version of why they went to the wedding party:

      • asimonetti88 - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:09 AM

        So… they sent 30 police officers for a minor in possession and they wonder why it escalated?

    • Francisco (FC) - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:12 AM

      Come on man, it’s obvious; they were ticked off at not being invited.

  6. rollinghighwayblues - Apr 2, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    Another reason why I avoid Galveston at all costs.

    • stex52 - Apr 2, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      You are missing some nice times and places in Galveston. If you refuse to go to all the cities that have over-the-top police forces, you would be limited to relatively few big cities.

      • rollinghighwayblues - Apr 2, 2014 at 10:48 AM

        Not Galveston, per se. Just the Galveston County Rodeo which haunts me in my dreams.
        My girlfriend has a beach house in Sargent near Cowtrap Lake so that’s about as close as I get.

  7. djandujar - Apr 2, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    I have absolutely NO respect for anyone that wants a career in law enforcement. F-ing pigs need a taste of their own medicine. FTP!

    • rollinghighwayblues - Apr 2, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      Ice T? Is that you?

      • asimonetti88 - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:07 AM

        Ice T: from Cop Killa to playing a cop on TV

    • stlouis1baseball - Apr 2, 2014 at 10:20 AM

      Coming straight outa’ Compton!

    • themuddychicken - Apr 2, 2014 at 10:36 AM

      I feel like there’s some middle ground that could be reached here.

      • historiophiliac - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:12 AM

        That option ended when cops decided their lives were more important than others’ (it’s supposed to work the other way).

      • chunkala - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:51 AM

        @histo – and you’re the first b* to yell for the cops when someone looks at you funny.

      • historiophiliac - Apr 2, 2014 at 1:04 PM

        Did you just call me a b***h? Seriously?

        And, no, I am not the first person to call the cops. I’ve called them exactly once in my lifetime — when my place was broken into (because I had to get a police report to file for insurance and have my landlord replace the glass). I did not call them when my ex threw crap at me or when I had to step into a fight to make sure some skinheads stopped kicking a black guy they had down on the ground. But in any case, the job of a police officer is to put themselves in harm’s way to save others. Firefighters do it without shooting anyone. So do social workers and linemen who go out in storms to repair blown transformers, etc. The difference is that none of those heroes expects to shoot anyone and don’t even carry firearms anyway (even though they often face threatening individuals in the line of duty). FYI, I think the greatest hero of WWII is Desmond Doss. You probably don’t even know who that is, but it takes a whole other level of bravery to go into combat unarmed. Putting themselves in danger to SAVE others is the gig, and if they aren’t up for it, they shouldn’t take the job.

      • forsch31 - Apr 2, 2014 at 9:43 PM

        histrio–I lost two friends in the line of duty. They lost their lives protecting others. It was their choice to live that life, but the idea that a cop’s life is worth less than the people they’re trying to protect?

        Go straight to hell.

      • historiophiliac - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:27 PM

        I reiterate: if you are not willing to sacrifice your life for others’ safety, you should not be a cop. This is hardly a scandalous position. That’s the point of having police to handle the bad guys. In fact, the officer’s oath where I live specifically says that they swear to protect the rights, lives and property of all citizens, with their lives if necessary. They are supposed to put others before themselves. If your friends did so, they honored their oath. But, honestly, other professionals put themselves in harms way all the time without the freedom to use force however they see fit to protect themselves. Cops are no better than others in value, and it is especially egregious if they abuse their power because of their special status.

      • Reflex - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:33 PM

        Reading comprehension fail.

  8. chunkala - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:48 AM

    Good, eff him.
    The evidence in his favor is his status as a quasi-celebrity due to his MLB career.
    If he wins the trial, put a few rounds in his head. Case closed.

    • moogro - Apr 2, 2014 at 5:33 PM

      You must be lost.

  9. mc1439 - Apr 2, 2014 at 12:03 PM

    I was a huge fan of Backe because he always came up big in big games and was more competitive then Clemens. Such a fiery guy and was sad as F when he never recovered from Tommy J. I believe him the dude isn’t one to “take the easy way out” if he could’ve been on the mound after this “altercation” then he would be up there. F the Galveston police.

  10. builttuff96797 - Apr 2, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    I honestly feel regardless what you do for a living you don’t deserve to be treated like Brandon says he was treated this was one of our up and coming young arms in baseball and now if gets to play again it will have to be at another position.
    I’m not saying that anyone deserves special treatment I’m saying that they(the police) need to take responsibility in their actions and try to keep this from happening again.

  11. notapsychiatrist - Apr 2, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    Holy crap…. if you didn’t read the linked article, you might not realize how bad it actually was for Backe.

    “At that point several officers attacked him, he said, striking him as he fell to the ground and continuing to beat him until his face was bloody. One kicked him in the face, he said.

    When he fell, his shoulder struck a concrete curb that separated the sidewalk from a garden. He said officers kept beating him while he was down. “I hit the ground hard and they just got on top of me,” he said. Backe contends that this is when he his shoulder was so badly damaged it ended his career.

    At first Backe was more concerned about his broken nose and damage to his skull. He thought a persistent pain in his arm would eventually go away, but finally the pain became too great and he underwent surgery.

    A large piece of bone that Backe keeps in a jar was removed from his shoulder and seven more pieces were removed in a subsequent operation. He testified that only a blow to the shoulder like the one he suffered at the H2O bar could have caused such an injury.”

    Eight pieces of bone removed from his shoulder? Yeah, that’s not exactly a typical baseball injury, and it’s very easy to see how an injury like that could end a pitcher’s career.

  12. righthandofjustice - Apr 2, 2014 at 2:49 PM

    “But if the jury finds that the police did use excessive force and caused career-ending injuries to Backe, the damages could range in the tens of millions given what a pitcher of his stature could have stood to make.”

    His lifetime ERA was 5.23 and the most money he made in a season was $1.5 million while in all the other years he made a little over league minimum.

    No. The damages will not be tens of millions. He asked for only $12-$15 million which is unlikely to be granted in full anyway. He will have to find some proof a team would be willing to pay him $1.5 million all the way until he turned 39.

  13. musketmaniac - Apr 2, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    History I don’t know where your getting your information today, your normally on point. But cops with degrees, my uncle served thirty years without a high school education, his son is a sergeant with a g.e.d. I got two cousins that are Fbi agents, via the military. There about as educated as high school gym teacher. All you need to become a cop is a racist attitude, and a little bit of the good ole boy mentality.

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