Drug War

Anatomy of a Drug War Crime

A deadly raid based on a bogus tip and a fraudulent search warrant affidavit highlights loose police practices in Houston.

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Are you confident that police will not break down your door tonight? If so, it's probably because you assume the warrant required for such an armed invasion of your home has to be based on reliable evidence of criminal activity.

But that is not true in Houston, as a federal indictment unsealed last week shows. According to the indictment, a drug raid that killed a middle-aged couple on January 28 was based on lies from start to finish, which should alarm anyone who thinks the Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches.

The indictment says the no-knock raid at 7815 Harding Street, which found no evidence of drug dealing but set off an exchange of gunfire that killed Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, was based on a false tip and a fraudulent search warrant affidavit. The Justice Department says Gerald Goines, a narcotics officer who retired in March after 34 years with the Houston Police Department (HPD), invented a heroin purchase by a nonexistent confidential informant.

Goines, who already faced state murder charges in connection with the raid, is now charged with civil rights violations that could send him to prison for life. Steven Bryant, a narcotics officer who backed up Goines' story of a drug deal that never happened, is charged with falsifying records. Patricia Garcia, the neighbor whose 911 calls prompted the investigation of Tuttle and Nicholas, is charged with conveying false information to police.

It would be easy to blame this scandal on a malicious tipster and a couple of rogue cops. But the indictment of Goines, Bryant, and Garcia is also an indictment of the policies and practices that allowed this disastrous operation to unfold.

Michael Doyle, a lawyer hired by Nicholas' family, says supervisors let the raid go forward even though they knew Goines had not properly documented his contact with the fictitious informant. Although Goines supposedly had been investigating Tuttle and Nicholas for two weeks, he did not know their names. And although his affidavit said he had "advised" the informant that "narcotics were being sold and stored" at the house, he cited no evidence of that.

Goines had a history of mishandling evidence and making dubious statements under oath. Over 12 years, The Houston Chronicle found, Goines obtained nearly 100 no-knock warrants like the one used in this case, almost always claiming that informants had seen firearms in the homes he wanted to search. But he reported recovering guns only once, a pattern no one seems to have noticed.

The Chronicle also found that, notwithstanding an expert consensus that undercover officers should be frequently rotated to other assignments, 71 officers have served a decade or more in the HPD's Narcotics Division, which at the time of the Harding Street raid had gone 19 years without an audit. You can start to see how the division might have developed a culture of insularity and impunity that led Goines to believe he could get away with his deadly fraud.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office is reviewing more than 2,000 cases in which Goines and Bryant were involved and has already dropped charges against dozens of defendants. Yet even after Goines' lies were revealed, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said, "I don't have any indication it's a pattern and practice."

After the raid, Acevedo described Tuttle and Nicholas' home as a locally notorious "drug house" and "problem location." He even claimed the couple's neighbors, who publicly contested that description, had thanked police for raiding the house.

To this day, Acevedo erroneously insists that "we had a reason to be in that house" based on "probable cause." He calls the officers who killed Tuttle and Nicholas "heroes."

The raid prompted Acevedo to impose new restrictions on no-knock raids and belatedly require narcotics officers to wear body cameras while serving warrants. But it seems clear that more systematic reforms are required. Judging from his comments, Acevedo is not up to that task.

© Copyright 2019 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Art Acevedo is a dirtbag progressive anti-gun police chief.

    1. Is he elected or appointed?

        1. It will be interesting to see what happens after the mayoral election. My bet is on nothing at all no matter which candidate wins.

      1. Municipal chiefs of police are usually appointed, county sheriffs are usually elected

    2. If he is, he’s oddly not into police accountability. Then again progressive Dems tend to suddenly stop carrying about that one they are in power, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

    3. You misspelled “incompetent”.

      1. @Trainer: There are competent progressives? Can you name any?

    4. Art Acevedo is a dirtbag progressive

      But you repeat yourself.

  2. No mention of the judge who signed off on all those bogus warrants.

    1. Beat me to it. The judge should be charged also.

      1. Agreed.

        And yes, it’s insane to think a judge is going to be out there verifying the information officers. But it seems that some arbitrary minimum of skepticism must be required.

        To this day, I don’t know which judge’s name is on the warrant. There’s a reason police have to get signatures for these-to ensure that every warrant issued means the judge’s reputation is on the line as well.

      2. Based on what? Not conducting their own investigation before signing warrants? Not their job

        1. Why do warrants even require a judge’s signature? Police should just be free to go search whatever house they want, right?

          1. I dunno, if the officer lied to the judge, I don’t see what the judge could do. The answer in that case is to throw the book at the officer. Which looks like it will be done, though it should have happened to this criminal 33 years ago, I bet.

            I think the real problem is the judges allowing a proliferation of no knock raids/hard entries. Judges should be held to account for authorizing violence for possession. And again if officers are lying to get that authorized, throw the book at them.

            1. The judge’s responsibility is to force the officer to justify his case for a warrant. He’s not going to investigate the claim.

              In this case, perhaps if he’d asked three or four questions, he might have realized that this officer didn’t even know the name of the fucking residents in the home he wanted to search. That would have been a sign that this officer hadn’t done his due diligence and maybe authorizing a Gestapo Raid into the house is a bad idea.

              Instead, it seems he read the officer’s request with 100% credulity and did nothing to interject himself into the process beyond signing off. The Fourth Amendment isn’t just paper work.

              1. It might also be helpful have some awareness of who’s requesting the warrant. He’s not going to hire his own investigators, sure, but perhaps a cursory records search might show him that this officer has requested nearly a hundred no-knock raids and seemingly never finds a weapon.

                You’d think that would have implications for the reputation of the judge signing the warrant as well-he’s not keeping the department in check even in the slightest. And that IS his job.

  3. Hey, I’m Sourav Patel Founder of Electrobot.

  4. Has anyone found out yet what it was really about?

    1. Cops and the Department getting credit for one more drug raid.

      Looks good in the media…until it doesn’t.

      1. Yep. Same motivation as Zachery Wester. Police measure success by number of arrests, not quality of arrests. So they target the poor on hunches. This guy had likely been doing this shoddy work his whole carrier. His 1% hit rate on him possessions from these raids should arrest to that… It’s well below the gun ownership rate, so he must have been targeting the poor or more likely people with a record.

    2. There are whispers it was an attempted hit on one of the cops involved. Goines was going to shoot him and blame it on the Tuttles.

      1. I don’t know if I’ve heard that anywhere beyond the Reason comment section.

        For now, it’s what it looks like. The big thing is that the officer was certain he wouldn’t face consequences for making shit up. If it turned out there was a gun in the house, any gun, he’d be vindicated. If there was nothing, he’d just shrug and nobody would say anything.

        The only outcome that he didn’t expect was a homeowner defending his home against an unjustified intrusion.

        1. They didn’t shoot at the cops. That was a lie too.

          1. Unsubstantiated accusation. I’m open to the possibility but I need evidence instead of speculation.

            As for me, I think the only reason we even know about this is because the man returned fire once officers shot his wife-or perhaps it was as officers were ABOUT to shoot his wife. Otherwise police had all day and night to stage the scene and craft their own narrative.

            1. I think it should be the only logical interpretation unless the police themselves can prove otherwise and they don’t appear to be interested. I just find it really difficult to believe a man minding his own business in the back of his house can suddenly shot a bunch of cops in body armor breaking through is his little front door with a gun that doesn’t seem to exist.

        2. It’s not relevant whether the raid was justified. The door was knocked down and guys with guns came storming in.

  5. HPD is corrupt from the bottom to the top!

  6. 100 raids with only 1 gun found? A random sampling would do better… So he must have been targeting the poor or people with a record.

    Regardless, police need to be compelled to keep records of stuff like this. If an officer has a statistically impossible rate of raid success, or arrest convictions, or false positive rates on drug tests, etc… They should investigate. That said, ain’t no way he was there for 34 years and the other officers didn’t know he was cutting corners.

    1. That said, ain’t no way he was there for 34 years and the other officers didn’t know he was cutting corners.

      Fucking truth. How many people do you work with for six months or a year and know that they’re just being sloppy? And this guy was in narcotics for at least 12 years? Yeah, people around him had to know he wasn’t doing the job right.

      This is why we need many more charges to come down. There’s a breakdown in the whole department.

      1. Every old cop I know has stories about his who everyone knew was cutting corners, taking FSTs, etc. I always ask what they did about it personally, which doesn’t win me any social points I’ll tell you.

        I mean, too be fair it’s human nature to cover for your buddies. Which is why as much as I hate it as a policy, perhaps we need mandatory reporting for police. If there are consequences for turning a blind eye, they can use that as an excuse to bypass the social problems.

        I dunno, police have had decades to reform themselves and it ain’t happening. They are agents of the state, and therefore a threat to liberty when they do this.

  7. Acevedo still has a job??

  8. An absolute nightmare. If the allegations are true, Goines is a monster that needs to be locked up for the rest of his life. The question is, how many more like hi, are still on the loose?

    1. Goines is a monster that needs to be locked up for the rest of his life.

      And even if that happens, Acevedo will still be defending him.

    2. “…how many more like him are still on the loose.”

      Um, all of them?

  9. Anyone who believes it’s just Houston is kidding themselves. I’d guess it’s happening in closer to 1/3 or more of police agencies. Definitely more when it comes to agencies with outsized budgets they need to justify.

    1. I used to wonder what kind of people worked for the Cheka, NKVD, Gestapo, Stasi, ÀVO and such. Then I started reading about American law enforcement.

      I’ve stopped wondering.

      1. Ernest Hemingway? (He was on NKVD’s payroll)

      2. Indeed. Read Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning sometime. It doesn’t take a bad person to be molded into a monster and a tyrant by social pressure and authority.

        In fact, that should be required reading in police academies.

    2. Nobody thinks it’s just Houston. We’re just hoping that this investigation in Houston might make some actual progress on department-wide problems that could be revealing for other cities.

      1. No chance. How many citizens do you think know about this case? I’ve mentioned it to around 8 people and none had heard of it. Reason readers are used to this type of thing. Pretty much no one else.

  10. For fuck’s sake Sullum there wasn’t an “exchange of gunfire”! The cops burst in and shot those people down in cold blood!

    1. I like the police story better, where the victim is literally Wyatt Earp and managed to hit 5 officers with a 6-shot revolver in the chaos of an unannounced raid. Totally believable.

      1. And they didn’t even find a revolver.

    2. Repeating that doesn’t actually do anything to prove it. If you have positive evidence of this I’m open to hearing it.

        1. That doesn’t say what you think it does. It contradicts the police’s argument that police encountered hostile fire when they breached the door.

          It doesn’t say he never shot back, just not in the general direction of the front door. It’s possible he never opened fire at all, but that’s hardly conclusive. It still seems likely, to me, that he acted to defend himself and that’s what threw a wrench into the police’s attempts to bury this story.

          1. The story is the cops shot two innocent people. How could anything Tuttle did throw a wrench into that?

          2. Given that they never recovered a gun that he was supposedly shooting them with when he was gunned down, the entire premise of that story seems suspect, don’t ya think?

            1. I’ve seen it reported that the gun was not recovered, and also that it was: https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Sources-Slain-couple-s-revolver-with-shell-13845118.php

              It may be that there’s some confusion because the 9mm automatic Goines claimed his informant had seen in the house to justify the no-knock warrant was not recovered.

  11. life sentence possible
    WHAT ?

    eye for an eye

    DEATH FOR MURDEROUS COPS

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  13. Even his own officers aren’t safe with that pompous blowhard in charge.

  14. If just makes you wonder how many times this has to happen in so many different places. This killing of innocent people by dishonest officers can only be stopped if they actually get punished harshly by jail terms, losing their jobs AND their pensions for these disgusting actions.

  15. The police in this country are out of control. They also are liars from top to bottom. They are no longer here to serve and protect. They are government mercenaries that have declared war on our constitutional rights and on innocent citizens. They have become a bigger plague than the criminals they are supposed to protect us from. Add that to the fact the government making it illegal to protect ourselves.

  16. While the raid was bad the couple did shoot at cop. There is never an excuse to shoot at cops. I have zero sympathy to those who shot on cops regardless of their race.

    1. Well there’s no evidence they actually DID shoot at the cops, and if the cops don’t announce themselves as cops then they should be treated as robbers.

  17. “Are you confident that police will not break down your door tonight?”

    Given the rhetoric* of gun control advocates after the Ken Ballew Raid in Silver Spring Maryland on 7 Jun 1971, NO, not since then have I been confident that police will not break down your door tonight.

    The War on Drugs and the War on Guns and Malum Prohibitum laws in general, do not stop abuse of drugs or guns or anything else because they create black markets. There are pernicious because they put innocent people at risk and undermine rights of people who may have no connection to drugs or guns too. The Tuttle Case is almost the Wars on Drugs and Guns colliding to create a perfect storm resulted in unnecessary death.

    * Mr Ballew may not have done anything wrong, but he could have, and they applauded their ATF for responding vigorously to reports of illegal weapons. If us gun nuts don’t want to raided, we should rethink the wisdom of owning guns in their America.

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