Drug War

Reacting to Deadly Raid, Houston Police Chief Promises to Restrict No-Knock Warrants

Art Acevedo also said police entering homes will soon start wearing body cameras.

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Houston Police Department

In response to a disastrous raid that killed a middle-aged couple and injured five officers on January 28, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo announced yesterday that his department will stop routinely using "no knock" warrants for drug searches. "The no-knock warrants are going to go away like leaded gasoline in this city," Acevedo said at a town hall meeting organized by the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice. "I'm 99.9 percent sure we won't be using them. If for some reason there would be a specific case, that would come from my office."

Acevedo had earlier indicated he was leaning in this direction. "After I've had four officers shot and two suspects killed," he said at a press conference on Friday, "we'll be tightening that up." Avoiding the destruction of evidence is usually cited as a reason for police to crash into homes without warning. But "if somebody flushes all the evidence" because police have to knock and announce themselves, Acevedo observed, "you probably didn't have all that much evidence in there to start with."

In this case, police found no evidence of drug dealing, notwithstanding a search warrant affidavit describing many bags of heroin in the home the day before. It turned out the "controlled buy" that was the basis for the warrant never happened. But even if it had, the execution of the warrant would have been reckless. After undercover narcotics officers broke into the home of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas at 7815 Harding Street, one of them immediately killed the couple's dog with a shotgun, setting off an exchange of fire in which Tuttle and Nicholas were both killed. Under the circumstances, it is plausible that Tuttle, who reportedly fired at police with a .357 Magnum revolver, did not know who the armed intruders were—a possibility that Acevedo implictly acknowledged by citing the raid as a reason to eschew no-knock drug raids.

If Acevedo follows through on his commitment to make no-knock warrants the exception rather than the rule, the new policy could help avoid situations like this—but only if police announce themselves in a way that gives occupants a realistic chance of answering the door. If cops say "police" a second or two before knocking the door down, it will not be much of an improvement. The point is to avoid the chaos and confusion that can have lethal results when armed men suddenly burst into a home.

Yesterday Acevedo also reiterated his intent to equip officers executing search warrants with body cameras so there is an independent record of the operation, which is especially important when the "suspects" are not around to dispute the official account. Acevedo's views on this subject, like his opinion of no-knock warrants, have noticeably evolved in the last few weeks.

"We do not have cameras on us when we make these entries," Acevedo matter-of-factly announced the day after the raid. At a press conference two days later, he attributed that situation not to policy but to a lack of funds. "The likelihood that we won't land on 'we're going to have body-worn cameras' is pretty slim for search warrants," he said, "because most of the times we're going to be doing the right things and we want to capture that." Now he is saying police entering homes will soon have body cameras.

Video of the raid could have shed light on the question of whether Tuttle understood that the men who shot his dog and his wife were police officers. It also might have clarified details of the shootout. After the dog was killed, Acevedo has said, Tuttle fired a .357 Magnum revolver at the officer with the shotgun, who collapsed on a couch. When Nicholas moved to disarm the officer, his colleagues fatally shot her, and Tuttle returned fire, striking three other officers before he was killed. A fifth officer suffered a knee injury in the tumult.

Contrary to this account, the inventory of items seized from the house did not list a revolver or any other handgun, just two shotguns and two rifles. Was the revolver removed from the scene before the inventory? Did police somehow confuse a long gun with a revolver? Video surely would have helped resolve that issue.

That Tuttle managed to strike four police officers with a six-round revolver while under fire seems pretty improbable. Yet Acevedo reacted indignantly on the night of the raid when a reporter asked if any officers had been injured by "friendly fire." He was less dismissive last Friday, saying "at this point, I don't think there's any indication of that, but we still have a lot of work to do."

Acevedo has been a cop for more than three decades and surely is aware of the controversy over no-knock raids and the utility of body cameras in resolving disputes about the use of force. It should not have taken a deadly, flagrantly botched raid like this one for him to come around on these issues.

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  1. “you probably didn’t have all that much evidence in there to start with.”

    Haven’t WE become Mr. Reasonable. I’m gussing they’ll just define down the “knock” raid. The battering ram smashing the door open will be defined as “knocking”, the shot that kills the dog or the first family member will be the “announcement” that they’re police.

    1. “A flashbang grenade formal announcement of intent to enter was used.”

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  2. But “if somebody flushes all the evidence” because police have to knock and announce themselves, Acevedo observed, “you probably didn’t have all that much evidence in there to start with.”

    Isn’t there some national police chiefs group that should be dealing with this monster before he gets totally out of control?

    1. Oh, I can assure you that he is likely getting a great deal of push back from some within his own ranks. He’s probably just very sensitive to the justifiable criticism of the police actions in this raid. Can it be called successful when policeman are injured, the “suspects” are killed, and insignificant amounts of drugs are found? NO!

      Had just the suspects been killed / injured, he’d likely be singing a different tune.

  3. I thought five hits with a revolver was good shooting, but five hits with a make believe gun is simply astounding!

    Now I know why schools consider making a finger and thumb gesture to be violent.

    1. They don’t call it a Pop Pop Pop Tart for nothing.

    2. A good revolver has many positives going for it. Safety and accuracy (with a six inch barrel) count for much. Rapid fire is a drawback …. you need two of them so that you can put on a really good “show” for intruders. I recommend a .357 magnum and .44 magnum calibers. Once you’re out of ammo, they make one helluva pair of brass knuckles!

    3. Well it was 4 officers shot. The 5 officer’s injury was not a gunshot wound, I forget what it was. 4 is still pretty damn good for a revolver not in his possession.

      1. According to the article, it was a “knee injury.” I smell a disability pension coming.

  4. Again. Failure to address a problem. The issues isn’t knock or no know. It’s falsifying a warrant application.

    How long do you have to wait between knocking and using a ram on the door?

    I get it, the no no knock policy is about saving officer lives, not doing the right thing with respects to honesty.

    1. Actually no knock warrants are a problem in their own right. Particularly when executed against an innocent party/wrong address where the occupants have no reason to expect a police raid. Police tactics in executing these types of raids are deliberately designed to sow as much confusion in the occupants as possible.

      The police, who know what’s happening, can’t be held accountable for mistakes made in “split second” decisions made in the heat of the moment. But the occupants, who have deliberately been placed in a situation that is as confusing as the police could make it have fractions of a second to decide whether they face a home invasion by criminals and need to defend themselves or a police raid and they need to surrender immediately. Any error made by the occupants is an immediate death sentence.

      None of this means that falsifying a warrant application isn’t a serious problem in it’s own right.

      On the other hand, falsifying a warrant application for a no knock warrant is a double problem, and if any deaths occur (police or occupants), it should mean at a minimum negligent homicide charges for the officer who falsified the warrant.

      1. “”Actually no knock warrants are a problem in their own right”‘

        True, not suggesting otherwise. Merely pointing out that in this instance no-knock wasn’t the problem.

        They could have knocked, counted to 5, then busted in and the cops still would have been home invaders getting shot at and the home owners dead. What would have prevented the deaths was honesty in the process.

        The only real difference between knock and no knock is the short delay before the door is kicked in.

      2. Either way on the manslaughter/murder issue is the felony PERJURY this copper perpetrated in order to GET the warrant. HE swore under oath that he had sent in his “informant” who “made a drug buy” and reported “large quantities of heroin in bags, and a nine mm handgun. He claims to have searched his mark first, then watched him enter, and later exit, having with him the drugs alledgedly purchased.

        The copper SWORE all this under penalty of perjury… and NONE OF IT IS TRUE. Charge him immediatelu with felony perjury, and at least second degree murder as a result of his causative perjury.
        No more badge, no more gun, no pension, and quite a long stretch in the state Crowbar Hotel.

        If THIS is not done IMMEDIATELY, there will continue to be this sort of incident….. and THIS is not acceptible. These people had every expection of being SECURE in their home……… and because of it were killed.

    2. I get it, the no no knock policy is about saving officer lives, not doing the right thing with respects to honesty.

      Its not about saving officer’s lives. Its never been about that. Its been about power-boners. Its about fucking with the dirty hippies, the (racial epithet of choice for a minority group), the trailer-livin’ white trash rednecks – anybody without power than can be abused.

      Cops who are going after seriously bad dudes don’t kick the door down. They call them up, tell them they’ve won a tv in a raffle, arrange a delivery date, and nab the guy when he opens the door to accept the delivery.

      Or they get him on his way to the store.

      Or any number of safer ways to grab somebody.

      No-knocks for search warrants should simply not ever have existed. And they should be tightly constrained for use with arrest warrants.

      1. Hard to look like military badasses when you knock on the door and have a polite conversation with the homeowner.

    3. The issues isn’t knock or no knockw.

      It’s an issue.

  5. Oooo, he promises! Well, you can take that to the bank, can’t you?

    1. 99.999% probably certain.

  6. So when Art Acevedo was chief of police here in Austin TX, he promised us police body cameras “real soon now.”

    We still don’t have body cams fully deployed, years after he quit and bailed to Houston for more money and glory.

    Why should we believe anything he says in Houston?

    Two positive points for Acevedo’s tenure in Austin — he cleaned up a lot of our dirty cops and the mindsets that made them dirty; and — he quit and went to Houston.

    I wish Mr. Acevedo and the citizens of Houston all the best,.

  7. Wow, we screwed up, and murdered two innocent people. There are no consequences for that act, but hey, we promise to do better next time.

  8. Reason has done a fine job in reporting this story — its writers’ instincts have been correct from the outset — but it’s even worse than reported here, far worse.

    1) The cops retreated under fire from Tuttle, leaving a fallen comrade in the house. Shortly afterwards, they re-entered the house to evacuate their comrade. They waited two hours for their victims to bleed out. Neighbors report that Tuttle was screaming in pain for some time. Then a SWAT sniper shot Tuttle from outside the house before re-entering the house.

    2) A CI did buy heroin for these narcs at a house five miles away. The heroin was not logged per chain of custody, but two bags of that heroin were in the narc’s car during the raid. Also found in the car: unlogged marijuana and firearms.

    This guy with Photography Is Not a Crime is doing some pretty good work. He’s actually complimentary of Chief Acevedo.

    To my way of thinking Acevedo’s characterization of the paramilitary assault on Harding Street — “I’ve had four officers shot and two suspects killed” — illustrates the problem. The correct way of expressing what happened is, “My officers shot and killed two innocent Houstonians and their dog in cold blood. Four officers were also injured. They are all suspects in the homicides of Mr. Tuttle and Ms. Nicolas.”

  9. With all the other bs involved in this case, I am just now realizing how preposterous the assertion is that Nicholas moved to disarm the injured officer. If her reaction to the situation was to rush to get the officer’s shotgun and join the fight (rather than sheer panic), those are some action movie commando reflexes.
    More reasonable is that the police agreed on this story to explain why they immediately killed everyone present as soon as someone returned fire.

    1. When I first read this, my first thought was that she wasn’t going to reach for a gun and try to disarm anyone when her dog was shot. She would have reacted in horror, surprise, grief etc. to the dog being shot. Her emotional state would have had her close to paralyzed and her attention and perhaps her movement would have been directed toward the dog.

    2. She may have moved to disarm the officer, not join the fight or harm the officer.
      Hypothetically anything is possible.

  10. Long overdue: they never should have started no-knock raids. All they are is an excuse to justify SWAT teams they shouldn’t have.

  11. If the officer that got the search warrant lied to get as it has been reported how about that officer face criminal charges?

  12. Houston, we have a problem!

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  17. Body Cameras should be mandatory, for the same reason that FBI/DOJ interviews should mandate AV record (OBJECTIVE) vs. Form 302 Interview Summaries (SUBJECTIVE).

    Fraudulently obtained warrants should be punished swiftly and severely; whether committed by local police, state police, or FBI/DOJ; whether with “normal” courts or FISA courts.

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