Texas police have apologised after an image of two white officers on horseback leading a handcuffed black man by a rope caused an outcry online.

Galveston Police Chief Vernon Hale said on Monday the technique was acceptable in some scenarios, but that “officers showed poor judgment in this instance”.

He said there was no “malicious intent” and has changed department policy to “prevent the use of this technique”.

Many people on social media said the photo evoked images of the slavery era.

According to a news release from the Galveston Police Department, the two mounted officers, named only as P Brosch and A Smith, arrested Donald Neely for criminal trespass.

The officers were taking Mr Neely to a police staging area. Police clarified that he was not tied with the rope, but “was handcuffed and a line was clipped to the handcuffs”.

The department added: “We understand the negative perception of this action and believe it is most appropriate to cease the use of this technique.”

An etching depicting a group of slaves being marched while they are bound together with chains, they are being led by white men on horses who carry guns and whips

Image caption: Etching depicting a group of slaves marched while they are bound together, led by white men on horses who carry guns and whips

Mr Hale apologised to Mr Neely for the “unnecessary embarrassment”.

He added the officers “could have waited for a transport unit at the location of the arrest”.

“We have immediately changed the policy to prevent the use of this technique and will review all mounted training and procedures for more appropriate methods,” the police chief said.

Mr Neely is free on bond but could not be reached for comment, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Leon Phillips, director of the Galveston County Coalition for Justice, told the BBC the image that went viral on social media was taken by an individual who wished to remain anonymous.

Mr Phillips said the incident is “difficult to talk about” as a Galveston resident.

“This was a stupid mistake,” he said. “What I do know is that if it was a white man, there’s no way they would have done that to him.”

He noted that Mr Neely is a mentally ill individual, and officers should have waited regardless of how long it took a vehicle to arrive, since “it’s not as if they’re getting paid by the arrest”.

Mr Phillips said he plans to file an open records request at city hall this morning to look at law enforcement policies.

“The police chief says they didn’t break any policy, but what is the policy on transporting a prisoner?

“How do I know that the policy wasn’t written in 1875? There are a lot of unanswered questions.”