Drug War

Handwritten Notes Document the Collapse of the Phony Story That Led to a Deadly Houston Drug Raid

Police Chief Art Acevedo's observations about the fallen nature of humanity are no substitute for reforms aimed at preventing such abuses.

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A veteran Houston narcotics officer's handwritten responses to questions from internal investigators document the unraveling of the story he concocted to obtain the warrant for a no-knock drug raid that killed a middle-aged couple last January. "I screw[ed] up," Gerald Goines, who was shot in the face during the raid, wrote as he lay in a hospital bed, "because I made a buy without the correct man power there."

Inadequate manpower was the least of the problems with Goines' investigation of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, which the Justice Department says was based on a false tip from a neighbor. Goines, who faces state murder charges and federal civil rights charges as a result of the deadly raid, claimed in his search warrant affidavit that a confidential informant had bought heroin from a middle-aged "white male, whose name is unknown," at the house on Harding Street where Tuttle and Nicholas lived. After the raid, which found no evidence of drug dealing, Goines could not identify an informant who would confirm that story.

In the handwritten notes, which were obtained by KPRC, the NBC station in Houston, Goines finally fesses up, sort of. "What is the name of your C.I. [confidential informant] that you used for 7815 Harding?" the investigators ask. "Gerald Goines," he replies. "There was no confidential informant….I made the purchase myself. I was looking to buy from a female. I bought from the male. I had info regarding people at the residence. I'm not sure if the guy I bought from was the male listed in info."

That "info," according to a federal indictment unsealed last month, was fabricated by Patricia Garcia, who lived across the street and described Tuttle and Nicholas as armed and dangerous drug dealers in telephone conversations with police on January 8. Although Goines supposedly investigated that tip for two weeks, he does not seem to have known the names of the purported drug dealers and, by his own account, did not know what Tuttle looked like. But that did not really matter, because the heroin purchase he said he made never happened, according to the indictment.

Goines also admitted to investigators that Steven Bryant, the narcotics officer he claimed had confirmed that the "brown powder substance" supposedly purchased at 7815 Harding Street was black-tar heroin, never saw the alleged contraband. "Officer Bryant never observe[d] the narcotic which was purchase[d] from the residence," Goines wrote. "I placed that statement in the [affidavit]." Bryant, who like Goines retired after the raid, faces state and federal charges for backing up Goines' fictional narrative.

In his written responses, Goines said he bought "two small baggies" of a "powdery substance" from the unidentified white male on the evening before the raid, and he was sure the man "would still be in possession" when police searched the home. But the only drugs that police found in the house were personal-use quantities of marijuana and cocaine. In his affidavit, Goines also claimed that his informant had seen "a semi-auto hand gun of a 9mm caliber" in the house; no such weapon was recovered.

All of this makes you wonder what Goines' plan was. Had he not been shot during the raid he engineered, would he have planted the heroin and the gun he had described in his affidavit? Goines' expectation that his fabrications would go undetected does not reflect well on the alertness and integrity of his colleagues and supervisors. As it turned out, Bryant did cover for Goines, confirming his own role in the transaction that Goines invented.

If the raid had not ended so disastrously, Goines might very well have succeeded in framing Tuttle and Nicholas. He 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.

That track record, combined with the loose supervision that allowed this operation to unfold as it did, suggests that imposing limits on no-knock raids and finally requiring narcotics officers to wear body cameras when they execute search warrants—two reforms that Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo instituted in response to this scandal—do not go far enough to root out the problems in the Narcotics Division. "How do you reassure the public something like this isn't going to happen again?" a reporter asked Acevedo on the day the federal indictment was unsealed. His response was revealing:

Police officers have been engaged in misconduct since the advent of time. Human beings have been sinning since…the days of Adam and Eve, right? I mean, we're imperfect beings. I can't guarantee that nothing will ever happen again….What I can guarantee is that, number one, we will continue to be vigilant in our processes and our systems and our audits….We will always ask the tough questions when we take a life. What I can tell you is that the chances of this being systemic are not going to happen because of the processes in the systems that we have in time. But at the end of the day, there is an element of trust when you have employees….No matter what systems or processes are in place, there is no such thing as 100-percent fail-proof process.

Acevedo says "we will continue to be vigilant in our processes and our systems and our audits," which implies that the Houston Police Department already was vigilant about potential abuses by narcotics officers. Yet the Chronicle found that the Narcotics Division had gone two decades without an audit. It also found that, despite an expert consensus that undercover officers should be frequently rotated to other assignments, 71 officers have served a decade or more in the Narcotics Division. 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 informant he described. Goines' belief that he could get away with inventing a drug purchase by a nonexistent informant does not speak well of the HPD's "processes."

Acevedo puts "the chances of this being systemic" at zero, even as he concedes that something like this is bound to happen again. In the face of a scandal that should make all Houstonians worry about the security of their constitutional rights, Acevedo's observations about the fallen nature of humanity are hardly reassuring.

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    1. Probably gonna get off when a judge rules that Goines had no reason to believe that lying about the informant and on the subsequent warrant was illegal. So, free pass.

      1. Qualified Immunity.
        What we get for criticizing jack booted government thugs in the 1990s.
        Payback from the big government uber alles crowd.
        “So long as the paperwork’s clean, you boys can do what you like out there.” — FiFi McAfee, Mad Max (1979)

  1. 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.

    A pattern no other cop bothered to report noticing. From what I know, there’s an awful lot of confiscated cash, drugs, guns and other valuables that don’t get reported as confiscated. What are the odds of raiding over 90 houses – in Houston, no less, – and only finding one with guns? Ridiculous. And we all know where the unreported guns went.

    1. I expect cops to lie and attempt to subvert our rights. What’s scary is the judges/magistrates that rubber stamp these clearly inadequate affidavits.

      Sadly, as with cops (most the time), I doubt there will be any consequences for those in the judiciary who signed off on this piece of shit’s behavior for years…

      1. “”What’s scary is the judges/magistrates that rubber stamp these clearly inadequate affidavits. “”

        They guys have a secretary to bang. They don’t have time to read them.

  2. It also found that, despite an expert consensus that undercover officers should be frequently rotated to other assignments, 71 officers have served a decade or more in the Narcotics Division.

    I don’t want to carry water for the Houston PD, but this doesn’t seem to say what you think it says. I’ve seen it used on a previous version of the story. Is everyone in the Narcotics Division an “undercover officer?” If not, might it be possible that these officers are just serving consistent uniformed duty? Or is it perhaps that they’ve done some undercover work, but it’s been mixed in with their uniformed work? This little pseudo-factoid is pretty useless without more context and does not appear to add evidence of departmental failure.

    Fortunately, we’ve got ample evidence otherwise that this Narcotics division is corrupt. It seems extremely likely that Goines had planned to drop the drugs as a plant if he hadn’t been shot in the face/neck during this raid.

    Also, Art Acevado is so ridiculously full of bullshit. Jesus Christ, what an asshole.

    1. Do they even have uniformed officers in narcotics? I figure the uniformed cops are in patrol and just get assigned to narcotics when they need bodies. And I’d guess narcotics are all detectives that work plainclothes and do buy/bust type work typically.

      But yeah Art is an asshole.

      1. You may be right. But I’m still thinking there may be a distinction between “Narcotics Division” and “undercover officer.”

        1. Right, you can be a plainclothes officer (i.e. detective) and not be “undercover”

          1. A detective that investigates real crimes does not often have to be undercover, because his work is to follow up on complaints from victims, or on murdered corpses. One that investigates victimless “crimes” has to go undercover to discover “crimes” that no one involved will complain about.

  3. Gee, this is pretty tough. But here’s a try.
    1. No confidential sources. The Judge must see real names, and the cops have to be able to produce the informant to confront the accused. Every ‘confidential source’ is in a conspiracy with the cops to violate my constitutional rights because they get a pass on continuing lawlessness.
    2. No no-knock warrants. If the bad guys ‘may have guns’, just wait until they leave and search then. Or buy some body armor. After all, it should be assumed every home has one or more firearms in compliance with the second amendment.
    3. No warrants for ‘powder like substances’. Test the damn stuff first, in a real lab with verifiable results, not the street side bullshit con job stuff.
    Oh, wait. This is not hard at all. Just follow the constitution.

    1. C’mon, do you honestly expect judges to be able to read and understand the text of the Fourth Amendment?

      1. After watching law professors testify in front of Congress? No, I don’t.

  4. “We will always ask the tough questions when we take a life.”

    What more could you possibly ask for?

    1. “I mean, yeah, one of our cops completely lied at every step of this investigation and our officers killed two innocent people. But nobody’s perfect!”

      1. Something that will never be said if someone killed two cops.

      2. And also all those cops are still heroes!

        /Art Assevedo

      3. To the absolute state imposed by a state monoply on force, questioning the propriety of agents killing innocent people is a greater crime against the state than the killing of innocent people by agents of the state.

    2. maybe they need to ask teh tough questions before they take a life

      1. Sounds really hard, man. You’re killing my buzz.

  5. Goines’ expectation that his fabrications would go undetected does not reflect well on the alertness and integrity of his colleagues and supervisors.

    Either at best a culture of looking the other way or at worst a culture of active participation from the chain of command is obviously what HPD ran on. The systemic problem likely won’t be fixed without a near wholesale change of leadership.

    1. You don’t rat out a fellow officer.

    2. Even a change in leadership won’t matter much. Police departments are like any other government bureaucracy in that the inmates run the asylum, regardless of who the supposed leader might be. Not to mention the union actively rooting out the few good apples while obstructing leadership at every attempt at discipline.

      Nothing will change without burning it down and starting over.

    3. My bet is that he has largely had a winning streak that came to an end. When you see these cases of rights abuses that result in innocent people being killed, it isn’t because just this one time, cops found the wrong guy and persecuted them. No, the cops do this ALL THE TIME. Just, it usually is against people who actually committed a crime. Like it or not, when the cops are “onto” you, it is probably because you did something wrong. And they lie, steal and cheat to get you behind bars. These cases where they lied, cheated and stole to get an innocent person convicted/killed are noteworthy because their vocation means they rarely end up tangled with someone who doesn’t have a shady character.

  6. Kill yourself, Goines. It’s your only chance to do one thing honorably in this case.

  7. It’s worth pointing out that Art Acevedo was previously the chief of police here in Austin, where there were several high-profile instances of innocent people being murdered by his cops for no apparent reason. Shortly after the most recent one, where a cop carjacked an innocent bystander in order to chase down a random passerby and then execute him with a bullet to the back of the neck, Acevedo failed upwards to the considerably larger Houston PD.

    1. Houston liked his management style and police tactics.

      1. Mostly gay, commie-fornian immigrants taking over Houston liked his management style and police tactics.
        /fixed it.

        Acevedo must go.

  8. Acevedo has long been a gun control supporter. According to Acevedo, if a woman is carrying a gun, it will be taken from her and used to kill her. It would be better if she were a sexual assault survivor instead!

    Acevedo taking heat online for comments on ‘Campus Carry’

    Quote:
    “We potentially are turning sexual assault victims — that we have a lot of resources to help these young people…turn into survivors through our victims services and so forth into potentially…murder victims,” Acevedo said.

    Senator Brian Birdwell, the author of the Campus Carry bill questioned him on that.

    “Correct me if I’m wrong but it sounded as if you said you would rather have a woman go through rape survival counseling than murder recovery,” Birdwell said.

    Acevedo was quick to correct the Senator.

    “I don’t want a woman to end up…not just a sex assault victim…but ends up being murdered with her own firearm because they haven’t put in the training, the retention, the weapons retention,” Acevedo said.

    1. I’ve seen cops make that kind of argument a lot. I guess it’s because, knowing they will face no consequences for their actions, they’re not likely to hesitate.

      1. Cops are under no obligation to protect any individual citizen.
        One cannot sue police over failure to protect one no matter how grossly negligent their response to one’s call for help.
        Several court cases have well established this rule.

        1. If we can defend ourselves they wont be able to shot as many people no one will want to be a cop.

    2. He assumes from the git go that ALL or even MOST females on a college campus that COULD carry their own protection devices (and I’m NOT referring to the ones in the tiny packets in their purse) are JUST BARELY smart enough to buy a handgun and bribe the local PeeDee for their Mother May I Card to carry it, but NOT smart enough to really learn how the thing works.

      Seems he’s got a rather chauvinistic approach to the matter.

      Further, he takes an authority upon his sorry self that is not his to take… that of DECIDING who may/may not go about armed, and where. That is not HIS call. Nope, that is the call of everyone who chooses to carry… or not. Many rapists, at the mere sight of a gun in the hand of a putative victim suddely loses their head of steam and slinks off into the woodwork. Not man enough to persist, knowing the risk. There are groups like The Well Armed Woman, local NRA and other training, plenty of ranges offering classes, and private schools all over the country. Besides, many women who would choose to carry will do so seriously desiring to claim any advantage they might… thus WILL do whatever it takes to learn how to handle that new Social Equaliser they just bought. If she is smart enough to realise she ought to be armed, she is also smart enough to understand she NEEDS to know how to handle that handy dandy tool. Many will have family, close trusted friends, or some organisation or club which would be able to equip her in the safe and effectinve handling of her new handgun.
      His “logic” is VERY faulty. So are his principles.

  9. So Training Day was a documentary?

  10. Why go to the effort to frame these people when there is real crime out there or are real criminals to dangerous for the cops to handle. this whole police department needs all its past investigations investigated

    1. Real crime, as in crimes with actual victims, are work to investigate. Not only that but it’s a lot easier for the cops to rape, pillage and plunder lowly druggies.

      1. “it’s a lot easier for the cops to rape, pillage and plunder lowly druggies”
        True. But as we all know it’s for the children.

  11. Gerald Goines, who was shot in the face during the raid,

    The only good part of this whole fucked up mess. Hopefully it was a fellow cop that shot that asshole. If I had to guess, Tuttle didn’t fire a shot.

    1. The details of just who shot whom will be released any day now…..

    2. Since Tuttles had no firearms, they did not shoot this monster. I remember reading that there quite a number of shots fired inside the house… that the outfit the family hired to do a thourough forensic examination of the house located quite a few artifacts the coppers had missed…. that nearly all the rounds fired from te inside make holes in the house as they exited. I hope the court carefully reviews this report.

  12. I’m still not seeing anyone talk about the cell phone clip that
    Reason initially reported on that was taken half an hour after everything calmed down, where we can hear someone shooting inside the house. It’s pretty clearly an effort to alter the crime scene a la training day, and it begs the question of why every cop who was on scene at that time isn’t being investigated for conspiracy.

  13. Thanks again Jacob for staying on this story.

  14. What about everyone else Goines helped put away over the last 12 years? Will they get new trials? Will they be released?

  15. As far as some new protocols for the Houston Cop Shop… start with the Constitution.. NO warrants shall issue except on probable cause, and affadavits sworn to establish what/who is to be sought, and where they might be found, together with PROBALE CAUSE to support the affirmation demanding the warrant. That means, to me, that the individuals supplying information to justify the warrant should actually appear before the judge granting the warrant, and be identified, then examined by that judge. Since there WAS no such “informant”, there should never have been a warrant released. And this no raid. The courts are too slap-happy to issue warrants, particularly no knock ones. those should be the one in ten thousand exceptions, EXCEPTIOINALLY well supported.

    How much will change after this debacle? I’ll drop my nickel on “not very much”.

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  17. Tim Stelloh, “Republican senators denounced after police officer shot dead”, NBC News, 10 Dec 2019.

    Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on reauthorisation of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA):
    “One of the biggest reasons that the Senate and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and others are not getting into a room and having a conference committee with the House is because the NRA doesn’t like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends. … You’re either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts, or you’re here for the NRA.”

    Before Acevedo’s public attack, Sen. John Cornyn had answered Acevedo when he tweeted about the VAWA: “Unfortunately, important legislation like this has fallen casualty to impeachment mania. We will keep trying to pass a bipartisan bill but it takes two (parties) to tango.”

    My not so humble opinion: for almost a year HPD Chief Avecedo has defended HPD killing two innocent civilians in a narcotics raid based on false information fabricated by a crooked narcotics officer who cited a fictitious informant to justify a warrant. The narcotics officer and an officer who lied to cover it up are facing state murder charges and federal charges as well.
    Can we call that attack on Republican Senators and the NRA “Acevedo’s Distraction”?

    (I know a family case of domestic abuse; the abuser had gotten a gun via grey market. No amount amount of restrictions on my right to buy a gun legally would have stopped the abuser from being armed. Gun laws have prevented abuse victims from being armed in self-defense.)

  18. [Hmm. Will Flagged for Review go thru w/o link?]

    Naaman Brown
    December.10.2019 at 9:42 pm

    Tim Stelloh, “Republican senators denounced after police officer shot dead”, NBC News, 10 Dec 2019.

    Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA):
    “One of the biggest reasons that the Senate and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and others are not getting into a room and having a conference committee with the House is because the NRA doesn’t like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends. … You’re either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts, or you’re here for the NRA.”

    Before Acevedo’s public attack, Sen. John Cornyn had answered Acevedo when he tweeted about the VAWA: “Unfortunately, important legislation like this has fallen casualty to impeachment mania. We will keep trying to pass a bipartisan bill but it takes two (parties) to tango.”

    My not so humble opinion: for almost a year HPD Chief Avecedo has defended HPD killing two innocent civilians in a narcotics raid based on false information fabricated by a crooked narcotics officer who cited a fictitious informant to justify a warrant. The narcotics officer and an officer who lied to cover it up are facing state murder charges and federal charges as well.
    Can we call that attack on Republican Senators and the NRA “Acevedo’s Distraction”?

    (I know a family case of domestic abuse; the abuser had gotten a gun via grey market. No amount amount of restrictions on my right to buy a gun legally would have stopped the abuser from being armed. Gun laws have prevented abuse victims from being armed in self-defense.)

  19. It’s obvious why Goins thought he could lie – he was just following his boss’s example. Avecedo has been lying every time he made a statement about this case.

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