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Jury rules 4 Galveston officers used excessive force, no decision on ex-Astro Backe's claim

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HOUSTON - A federal jury deadlocked Monday on a brutality claim by former Houston Astros pitcher Brandon Backe, who had sought millions in damages after accusing police of causing career-ending injuries when they broke up a 2008 wedding party.

Backe and his attorneys said they would seek a retrial of the unresolved claims. However, "I can hold my head up high. It has been six years since the beating and I was able to tell my story," the right-hander said.

The jury did rule that four Galveston, Texas, police officers used excessive force to break up the party. Nine officers were suspended without pay and four received written reprimands after the Oct. 5, 2008, incident at a bar at the San Luis Resort and Conference Center.

The jury awarded nearly $50,000 in damages in the lawsuit against the four officers. Backe, who helped the Astros to the 2005 National League pennant, said the plaintiffs were beaten by officers responding to reports of rowdy partygoers at an outdoor bar.

Left unresolved was Backe's brutality claim against the Galveston Police Department.

"I suspect that both sides are in some measure disappointed," U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison said.

According to testimony, a security guard followed Cole O'Balle, then 19 and brother of the bride, from the conference centre to a resort bar. An off-duty Galveston police officer working security at the resort suspected O'Balle of underage drinking, tried to arrest him and called for backup.

Thirty police officers descended on the wedding party, saying party members tried to interfere with the arrest. Police allegedly slammed Backe to the ground and beat O'Balle so badly that he was flown by helicopter to a Houston hospital. Other guests said they were beaten, stunned and pepper-sprayed even as they tried to comply with directions from officers, plaintiff's attorney Charles R. Parker said.

Backe, O'Balle and three others were charged with felony resisting arrest, but a grand jury declined to indict them. Backe pleaded no contest to a misdemeanour charge and was fined $1 and court costs.

An investigation overseen by one of the officers being sued found that officers used proper procedure but were lax in reporting use of force.

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