Drug War

Houston's Police Chief Insists That Cops Who Executed a Deadly Drug Raid Based on Lies 'Had Probable Cause to Be There'

Although the warrant was based on a heroin purchase that never happened, Art Acevedo says, there was other, unmentioned evidence that would have justified a search.

|

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo insists that the narcotics officers who shot and killed a middle-aged couple on January 28 after breaking into their home "had probable cause to be there," even though they were executing a search warrant that was based on a fraudulent affidavit. Acevedo's position is pretty puzzling, since the sole basis for the no-knock search warrant, which led to a deadly raid that found no evidence of drug dealing, was a "controlled buy" of heroin that he says never happened.

Gerald Goines, the veteran narcotics officer who wrote the affidavit seeking a no-knock search warrant for the house at 7815 Harding Street, was recently charged with two counts of felony murder based on the allegation that his lies led to the deaths of the home's owners, Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas. Goines claimed in the affidavit that a confidential informant had bought black-tar heroin at the Harding Street house the day before the raid. After the operation went horribly wrong, setting off a gun battle that injured Goines and three other officers as well as killing Tuttle and Nicholas, he admitted that no such transaction had occurred. Steven Bryant, a narcotics officer who backed up Goines' story, faces a felony charge of tampering with a government document.

"We didn't need to lie," Acevedo said on August 23, the day that Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced the charges against Goines and Bryant. "We could have done this right….When somebody lies to obtain a search warrant, that's a problem." When KPRC, the NBC station in Houston, asked him about his claim, a few weeks after the raid, that "we still had a reason to be at that home," Acevedo replied, "I stand by that. We had probable cause to be there."

It is hard to see how that can be true. According to Acevedo, Goines' investigation of alleged drug dealing at the Harding Street house was triggered by a tip from a patrol officer who had responded to a January 8 call in which an unnamed woman reported that her daughter "was in there doing heroin." At a press conference three days after the raid, Acevedo described the call this way: "The caller wanted to remain anonymous but said that her daughter was inside the residence 'doing drugs, and they have a lot of guns in the residence.' She stated there was also a female in the house." The woman said she had looked through a window, and she saw that "her daughter was in the house, and there were guns and heroin."

When two patrol officers arrived in response to that call, the woman was nowhere to be found. According to Acevedo, they questioned a passer-by and afterward heard her say into her cellphone, "Hey, the police are at the dope house." When the officers called the woman who had made the report, Acevedo said, "She stated she did not want to give any information because they were drug dealers and they would kill her. She wanted the officers to go into the house and get her daughter." The officers explained that they had no authority to enter the house.

The tip about that incident seems to have been the only basis for suspecting that Tuttle and Nicholas were selling heroin. In his affidavit, Goines, who supposedly had been investigating them for two weeks, cited no suspicious activity consistent with drug dealing. (Nor was any noticed by neighbors who spoke to reporters after the raid, notwithstanding Acevedo's claim that the home was known locally as a "drug house" and "problem location.") Goines apparently had not even bothered to look up the names of the home's owners; he described the middle-aged man who supposedly had sold heroin to the nonexistent confidential informant as a "white male, whose name is unknown."

If Goines had developed evidence to support a search warrant, as Acevedo suggests, why did he feel a need to invent a transaction by a fictitious confidential informant? Why was that fantasy the only evidence cited in the affidavit? Goines' behavior makes no sense if police had an independent basis for probable cause.

"Our government should not have intervened in that home, and two people are dead as a result," Ogg told KPRC. "The probable cause to obtain the search warrant was false."

The initial tip did not provide probable cause for a search. Neither did the phony controlled buy. But according to Acevedo, police could have obtained a warrant based on other, unspecified evidence that Goines for some mysterious reason failed to cite.

That claim is of a piece with the way Acevedo described the officers who killed Tuttle and Nicholas after starting a gunfight by breaking into the house without warning and using a shotgun to kill the couple's dog. "I still think they're heroes," Acevedo said after Goines and Bryant were charged. While those two officers may be bad apples, Acevedo said, their colleagues "acted in good faith" and appropriately used deadly force to defend themselves. The first claim is debatable based on what we know so far, and the second is highly dubious given the raid's recklessness. Acevedo's assertion of probable cause based on evidence that was never presented to a judge is even harder to believe. It does not inspire confidence in his ability to recognize, let alone correct, the supervisory deficiencies that made this fiasco possible.

NEXT: Neal Stephenson Wants To Tell Big Stories 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

Please to post comments

54 responses to “Houston's Police Chief Insists That Cops Who Executed a Deadly Drug Raid Based on Lies 'Had Probable Cause to Be There'

  1. Why does Acevado still have a job?

    1. Because he can just move on to infest another city when one kicks him out. He was the chief of police here in Austin for almost ten years before he failed up to a larger city. Shortly before he left he presided over such fine and heroic officers as the one who carjacked an innocent bystander to chase down a random person who’d done nothing wrong and then execute him with a bullet to the back of the neck. That officer was allowed to retire and keep his full pension.

    2. Because being CoP is a position gained as much through political connections as it is in administrative capability. He’s made connections, is owed favors.

      1. Agreed.

        That being said, he is making those ‘ political connections ‘ look bad. Real bad.

    3. Because Mayor Turner doesn’t care and probably even likes it that way. Corrupt city departments are more effective for corrupt officials to use in corrupt ways.

  2. “We didn’t need to lie,” Acevedo said on August 23, the day that Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced the charges against Goines and Bryant. “We could have done this right….When somebody lies to obtain a search warrant, that’s a problem.”

    But we’re cops, so FYTW.

  3. I was intrigued enough by his comment that I went to Acevedo’s house just to ask him about this other “probable cause”. Unfortunately, I guess he wasn’t at home because nobody answered the door and didn’t see anybody inside when I peeked trough a window. I did see a large quantity of drugs and heroin inside the house, though – hope nobody from the Houston PD reads this comment and sends a SWAT team out to Acevedo’s house based on this probable cause. Wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to the fine officer.

    1. Or his Dog, don’t forget!

  4. If there was ever any doubt, the Houston police chief has made it clear he is a huge part of the problem. Officers do this stuff when they think they can get away with it. The understanding that they will escape accountability clearly comes from the leadership in Houston.

    1. I suspect you are correct………but the Houston Police have always been…shall I say….sleazy. And we’ve had some doozies as chiefs-of-police. Lee Brown, anyone? Furthermore, I wouldn’t bet two bits that Goines will be convicted. Jurors in Harris County, Texas have been historically prone to letting cops get away with just about anything. Just research Randall Alan Webster and Jose Campos Torres.

    2. Even if he wasn’t directly the cause of the problem, he should still be held accountable. When one of our Navy ships runs aground or hits another vessel, they are almost always relieved. Even when it is demonstrably clear that fault lies with a specific Sailor under his or her command. The CO is responsible. The buck stops there. One would think that if a police department kills some folks under questionable circumstances then the heads would roll starting at the top.

      1. The CO is almost always relieved. Sorry.

    3. Officers do this stuff when they think they can get away with it.

      Officers do this stuff when they know they can get away with it. It’s already been tested and confirmed. It happens in daily basis at HPD at many different levels.

  5. Also, people with integrity don’t engage in that sort of goalpost-moving defensiveness when someone fucks up. They say they’re very sorry and they’ll make efforts to assure it doesn’t happen again.

    1. Acevedo has already said he’s very sorry and that he’ll make efforts to assure it doesn’t happen again – everyone says that anyway, its effortless – but he’s also saying that they really didn’t do nuffink wrong.

      1. When someone says that second part, it means they were lying about that first part.

  6. To see the chief’s statement in the most favorable light — to play devil’s advocate — the SWAT team DID have probable cause, at least as far as most of them knew. I’ve seen no evidence yet that the rank and file knew Gaines had lied to get the search warrant.

    But enough of that trash. Gaines had apparently been lying like this for years. Any cop who didn’t know he was a habitual liar must have been just hired.

    1. That’s not what Acevedo is saying. He’s not saying that the team thought the lies were the truth.

      He’s saying that there were legitimate reasons for the cops to bust in – its just that Goines didn’t list them on the warrant application. Reasons the team wouldn’t have known about because they were never recorded.

      Oh, and he can’t tell you them. Ongoing investigation and all.

  7. “We didn’t need to lie”

    That’s a problem right there the way that chief imagines himself as a part of a Borg like collective. Of course the rest of us are the “others”. It’s hyper tribalism and the last kind of people you want to give power to.

  8. “why did he feel a need to invent a transaction by a fictitious confidential informant? ” Because confidential informants get paid, and if Gaines was the “CI”, then guess who gets the money?

  9. The entire reason Goines is charged with murder is because he didn’t have probable cause to be there!

    1. And there was no gunfight.

      1. IceTrey, you are exactly and importantly correct there was no gunfight. The initial story was that Dennis Tuttle shot 4 police officers in an instance with a “.357 Magnum revolver”……#1, gunfights don’t happen that way; #2, there was no “.357 Magnum revolver” or ANY revolver or handgun taken away from the scene of the murder, which in this case was Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas’ home.

        The crime scene evidence inventory document has been made public and is available to see online. Goines history of shooting incidents and temper tantrums are also documented over a 20 year period. Each member of HPD command who stands beside Art Acevedo during Acevedo’s ludicrous, absurd, and lying press conferences, each of those members of command / supervisory roles CHOOSE to stand there while Acevedo spreads MALICIOUS LIES about the deceased victims. Those HPD command officers know what the truth is and they make a choice to stand by while felonious and outrageous lies are uttered by their boss Acevedo. Accountability; it should be spread around.

  10. Warrants are like news stories; no names, no truth.
    Can Texas judges be recalled?

    1. I think that may be the only remedy to this stuff. The judges need to be defrocked and publicly shamed for signing off on this. They need culpability. We can’t rely on the cops to police themselves.

  11. Tuttle and Nicholas shot back at the cops (or at least could have) who invaded their home, which must be some kind of crime. HPD knew this would happen and so invaded their home. So the warrant was justified.

    If this confuses you, then you probably don’t understand time travel and futurecrime.

    1. Which is why they’ve lied from the beginning and they keep lying. They have no evidence that Tuttle shot anyone. Where’s his gun? What kind of gun were the officers shot with? Were Tuttle’s hands tested for residue? If they had this evidence, they would drag it out every chance they could but they don’t.

  12. “police could have obtained a warrant based on other, unspecified evidence that…”
    has yet to be manufactured.

  13. This is about the level of “probable cause” and “credible whatever” that justified the SWATting of David Hogg’s home.

    With the Democrats hell bent on reviving the glory days of Ruby Ridge and Waco with another assualt weapon ban and suspension of due process in the name of gun control, these raids are a threat to anyone who can be fingered by anonymous accusers.

  14. “We had probable cause to be there.”

    And that probable cause was WHAT, *exactly*?

    *** waits for “ongoing investigation” bullshit ***

  15. “A little bird told me that they were definitely BAD GUYS. That makes it okay to shoot them. Besides. They definitely shot our officers with invisible guns that were never found that shoot the same sort of bullets our officers shoot except they are magic and fly around and hit you in the back. Case closed. Another successful drug bust!”

  16. Somebody please take this moron aside and tell him, “When you find yourself at the bottom of a deep pit, STOP DIGGING!”

  17. What the police chief means to say is that they could have fabricated much more convincing evidence and none of us would have known that they murdered anyone.

  18. Ok, let’s run his scenario.

    Mom calls cops to scene, tells them her daughter is in there doing heroin. They tell her they can’t do anything and leave.

    Uh….. Ok, I already have an issue with their response.

    How about this alternative to lying on an affidavit and sending in swat much later: Walk up to the front door and knock. Ask to speak to the daughter. Welfare check, doncha know.

    That’s it.

    That’s all you need to know that their backup story is full of crap.

    If they had indeed believed that there was a woman doing herion in that house at exactly that moment with her drug dealer, why wait for a controlled buy and all that nonsense?

    Either you didn’t believe her and you left.

    Or you did believe her and you call backup and then go knock on the front door. Or you even phone in a warrant and have SWAT join you on site.

    Either way, you’d act immediately…. the crime is happening now and you believe this lady that her daughter is in some degree of danger.

    1. They couldn’t have had the awesome gun fight then. Look at Goines record and you’ll see he loves a good gun fight.

      But also, they couldn’t have done that- a 33 year-old doing drugs isn’t a reason for a welfare check. It would have been a crime investigation. Just randomly knocking on doors to inquire about a crime isn’t going to get you any usable evidence.

      1. a 33 year-old doing drugs isn’t a reason for a welfare check. It would have been a crime investigation. Just randomly knocking on doors to inquire about a crime isn’t going to get you any usable evidence.

        It is the difference between being keeping the peace and law enforcement. Knocking and making polite inquiries is about keeping the peace, and the KGB HPD are not in the business of peacekeeping. In this ‘nation of laws’, the secret municipal police know their real business is to control and enforce. The way you demonstrate control is by invading a home and executing beloved pets.

        If the citizen doesn’t get the message, the process is the punishment. Don’t fight back, lose your job and lose tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars defending and recovering from the repercussions of being branded as a criminal. Fight back and die or spend your life in prison.

  19. Acevedo sees the other officers as heroes. I bet the other officers do not feel that way. Even if they were fooled and were acting in good faith that the warrant and risk were legitimate, they now know that people died and officers were wounded over nothing remotely like what was being alleged. I imagine the last thing they feel like is heroes.

    1. You clearly don’t know cops. They think they are the thin blue line. Why, without cops, armed men could just break into your house, murder you, and not be held to account for their crimes. Oh, wait….

  20. Abusive cops don’t get it. Even if they can get away with their abuse, they are ruining the reputation and trust that people have in police.

    1. Neither do “good” cops who look the other way when this sort of stuff happens. The whole profession is tainted.

  21. We need to find a way to attract a better class of people to law enforcement. Fewer authoritarian hotheads, fewer poorly educated bigots. Better education, better training, better temperament, better accountability, better character.

    It can be done. Republicans will fight it, however, in part because the better standards would result in less hiring of Republicans.

    1. What makes you so certain that Mohamed Noor is a Republican?

      1. Nothing makes me certain that Mohamed Noor is a Republican.

        1. Then why is he such a trigger-happy clinger, if not because of Republican affiliations?

  22. If they actually had legitimate probable cause to search the house, the appropriate procedure would have been to go to the house, knock on the door, wait for an answer, and announce that you are the police with a search warrant. Not break down the door in the middle of the night with guns blazing.

    1. Afternoon.

  23. Either this Avocado guy knew what was going on in his department, or he didn’t. Either way he needs to be fired.

  24. Citizens, know this: these stories told by Art Acevedo are lies. Acevedo knows what he says is not true. Matt Slinkard knows what his boss is saying is not true. For Matt and all other supervisory / command personnel to stand there with Acevedo is the same as confirming what Acevedo says to be true. It is not true and they all know it. Man up and tell your boss “no, I won’t be at your press conference”. The truth will eventually be known and those who lie and simply stand by while this slaughtered married couple’s names are maliciously slandered after they are dead at the hands of police, those who stand by are shameful. If you folks at HPD command don’t want to show integrity, how about just showing some courage and backbone to do the right thing. Stand for truth. “Heroes” do the right thing Matt Slinkard.

  25. A “swatting” of a gunowning couple by an anonymous individual (assuming she ever existed) with the collusion of te police. Too bad the cops weren’t killed along with the innocent citizens. Will the “anonymous” source be sought, found and charged with murder?

  26. A “swatting” of a gunowning couple by an anonymous individual (assuming she ever existed) with the collusion of te police. Too bad the cops weren’t killed along with the innocent citizens. Will the “anonymous” source be sought, found and charged with murder?

  27. If the judges there were worth their salt this entire lethal debacle would make it more difficult for HPD to obtain search warrants.

Comments are closed.