Drug War

New Charges and Audit Results Reveal Widespread Laxness and Corruption in the Houston Narcotics Division That Killed an Innocent Couple

Contrary to what Police Chief Art Acevedo seems to think, his department has a systemic problem.

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Ten months after Houston cops killed a middle-aged couple during a no-knock drug raid based on a fraudulent search warrant affidavit, Police Chief Art Acevedo was still assuring the public that the incident did not reflect a broader problem in his department or its Narcotics Division. "We will continue to be vigilant in our processes and our systems and our audits," Acevedo told reporters on November 20, dismissing "the chances of this being systemic." That was the day the Justice Department announced federal civil rights charges against Gerald Goines, the former narcotics officer who cited a heroin purchase that never happened to justify the raid that killed Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas in their home on January 28, 2019.

New criminal charges against Goines and five of his former colleagues, along with internal audit results that were revealed yesterday, show that "the chances of this being systemic" are actually 100 percent. The revelations suggest that Acevedo, who has been presenting himself as the embodiment of police reform since George Floyd's death, either had no idea what was going on in his department or did not want the public to know.

"Houston Police narcotics officers falsified documentation about drug payments to confidential informants with the support of supervisors," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said yesterday. "Goines and others could never have preyed on our community the way they did without the participation of their supervisors; every check and balance in place to stop this type of behavior was circumvented. This was graft and greed at every step in the process, and prosecutors are making their way through the evidence one incident at a time."

Goines, who was employed by the Houston Police Department for 34 years, already faced state charges (felony murder and tampering with a government document) in connection with the raid. He has now been charged with falsifying three other search warrants and stealing public money. His former partner Steven Bryant, who already faced state and federal charges for backing up the fictitious story that Goines concocted as evidence that Tuttle and Nicholas were selling heroin, is now charged with theft and three more counts of document tampering, related to false statements about confidential informants.

Officer Hodgie Armstrong, who also worked with Goines in Squad 15 of the Narcotics Division, faces one charge of tampering with a government document, in his case an offense report. Three narcotics supervisors also have been charged: Sgt. Clemente Reyna faces one count of theft and three counts of falsifying confidential informant forms, Sgt. Thomas Wood faces one count of each, and Lt. Robert Gonzales is charged with misapplication of fiduciary property for failing to verify and authorize expenditures.

Notwithstanding Acevedo's assurances, it has been clear all along that Goines' shady practices—which prosecutors say go back more than a decade, tainting at least 164 convictions—went undiscovered because of lax supervision. Ogg says "supervisors signed records stating they witnessed street-level officers pay money to confidential informants for buying drugs, when the evidence reveals the supervisors were not actually there, and therefore could not have witnessed what they claimed to have witnessed."

Additional charges are expected. "The new charges show a pattern and practice of lying and deceit," Ogg said. "There are mountains [of] more evidence to review, and more charges are likely as we push into the next phase of our investigation."

After Ogg announced the new charges, Acevedo finally released the results of an internal audit that revealed widespread sloppiness, if not outright malfeasance, in the Narcotics Division. Despite his lip service to transparency, Acevedo had for months resisted making those findings public, saying he did not want to compromise Ogg's investigation.

The audit, which covered the period from January 1, 2016, to January 28, 2019, examined all the cases handled by Goines and Bryant, plus "a representative sample" of cases from Squad 15 and three other squads. It discovered numerous "administrative errors committed by Narcotics case agents and supervisors" and "policy violations" related to "warrant services, operations planning, and handling of confidential informants."

The auditors also found "numerous errors" involving confidential informant payments but said "a conclusion of illegal activity is not possible without the ability to interview the confidential informant or witnesses." Ogg's office investigated that issue, resulting in some of the charges announced yesterday, which she says probably will be followed by more.

The audit identified "404 errors" in 231 investigations involving Goines and Bryant. The most common deficiency was the omission of case review sheets, which accounted for 29 percent of the errors. Other common errors included late submission of evidence (17 percent), late case tracking entries (16 percent), case tracking errors (14 percent), expense discrepancies (13 percent), failure to formulate tactical plans (11 percent), and incomplete investigations (9 percent).

That last category presumably would include Goines' investigation of Tuttle and Nicholas, which was triggered by a false tip from a neighbor. Although Goines supposedly investigated the couple for two weeks, he did not even know their names when he applied for the search warrant that proved to be their death warrant.

In a separate examination of 84 cases handled by Goines alone, the auditors found that he "failed to tag the drugs into the evidence box before the end of his shift" nearly half of the time. The report says "other recurring issues stemmed from 'Expense Discrepanies' (27%), 'Missing Case Review Sheets' (29%), 'Case Tracking Errors' (23%) and 'Failure to Complete a Tactical Plan' (25%)."

A review of 147 cases handled by Bryant found that he omitted case review sheets 31 percent of the time and failed to turn in the case file after completing an investigation 18 percent of the time. The auditors say "other recurring issues stemmed from 'Late Case Tracking Entry' (16%), 'Case Tracking Errors' (10%), and 'Thoroughness of the Investigation' (10%)."

Were the "errors" identified by the audit limited to Goines and Bryant? No.

A review of 173 cases handled by other narcotics officers in Squads 14 and 15 found 367 errors. The most common errors in Squad 14 involved missing case review sheets and incomplete investigations. The most common errors in Squad 15 were missing case review sheets and late report entries.

The audit also looked at 252 cases handled by Squads 9 and 10. It identified 409 errors. The most common error in Squad 9 was that perennial favorite, missing case review sheets, followed by late case tracking entries and late report entries. The most common errors in Squad 10 were missing supervisor signatures on case review sheets and late case tracking entries.

While some of this sloppiness may seem unimportant, we are talking about investigations that lead to the use of potentially deadly violence. When narcotics officers fail to properly and promptly document the evidence they have gathered, there is less assurance that it is legally adequate to justify searches and arrests. And when supervisors fail to notice and correct these deficiencies, they send the message that following official procedures is optional and open the door to flagrant fraud of the sort committed by Goines and Bryant.

Given "the number and variety of errors," University of Nebraska at Omaha criminologist Sam Walker told The Houston Chronicle, the Narcotics Division "looks like an operation completely out of control." Houston NAACP President James Douglas concurred. "I wouldn't have confidence in anything that came from this division," he said. "This calls into questions other divisions. If it's this lax in narcotics, what happens in other divisions in the police department?"

Based on their findings, the auditors recommended six reforms that Acevedo either had already announced or has since implemented. They include requiring a lieutenant (rather than a sergeant) to be present when search warrants are served, higher-level approval of various operations, supervisor review of "investigative efforts that support the search warrant affidavit to determine the sufficiency and efforts of the case agent," enhanced oversight of confidential informants, requiring approval by the chief's office for no-knock warrants, and the use of body cameras during drug raids.

These changes are certainly an improvement, but they reflect the "systemic" problem that Acevedo said his department did not have. Recall that he promised the department "will continue to be vigilant," implying that it was already vigilant, which is manifestly not the case. His denial of reality is alarming in light of the high-level misconduct that Ogg's office is still uncovering. So is Acevedo's blithe attitude toward police abuses, which he says are inevitable and cannot realistically be prevented.

"Police officers have been engaged in misconduct since the advent of time," Acevedo—who initially tarred Tuttle and Nicholas as dangerous drug dealers while praising the cops who killed them as "heroes"—said in November. "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."

In other words, it's too bad that two innocent people died for no good reason, but shit happens. This is the message that Acevedo, who righteously condemns police misconduct in other cities, is sending to Houstonians who would like some assurance that the armed agents who work for him will respect their constitutional rights.

[This post has been revised to correct the charge against Gonzales.]

NEXT: Lindsey Graham's Terrible Anti-Privacy 'EARN IT' Act Passes Senate Committee

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  1. Sweet Jesus! A government bureaucracy totally out of control!
    Let me look down here in my bottom drawer to see if I can find my shocked face.

    1. I’m just happy since I spent months waiting for more indictments and the DA’s office finally delivered. I was growing worried that they were going to make one bad apple as the “scapegoat” when it was clear the whole division, if not the whole department, was dirty.

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  2. No protests over a couple of middle age white folks. Must be the fear of Covid-19.

    1. The proper BLM take on this is that none of these reforms or charges would have happened if the couple were black.

    2. This has been a story in the media for a while, so that counters your claim. And BLM folks are mad because this awful kind of stuff happens even more frequently to African Americans. Why do people need to belittle anyone’s offense at the behavior of corrupt police in America? And all to enforce laws that shouldn’t be on the books anyhow, let alone followed up by no knock warrants.

      1. The unnecessary Tuttle raid was justified after the fact by the fact that after his dog was shot for barking at home invaders and his wife was shot for trying to disarm the brave dog killer, Tuttle defended his home, wife, and dog with a revolver, and was in possession of a closeted cache of common hunting hunting rifles and shotguns.

        I have been aware of a War on Guns since the rhetoric on the raid on Ken Ballew in Silver Spring MD June 1971. Ending the War on Drugs will just shift the bad policing and politics to the War on Guns.

      2. “And BLM folks are mad because this awful kind of stuff happens even more frequently to African Americans.”

        Double bullshit. The data does NOT indicate this happens more frequently to African Americans. And BLM folks aren’t mad about Black lives being lost, otherwise they would protest the real threat to Black lives – crime in Black neighborhoods. If you look at BLM’s site, their real agenda is to break up the nuclear family and other crazy Left wing bullshit.

  3. > it’s too bad that two innocent people died for no good reason, but shit happens.

    Actually he is right. That’s why the answer isn’t more process. The answer is legalization.

    There is no scenario where routine interactions between cops and bags of illegal money won’t lead to corruption.

    1. Good process and oversight from out the department would have revealed the abuses sooner, but yeah.

      I’m sure a pinky promise with an earnest prepared statement of trying to do better is enough to clear this up.

    2. More process is something he can do. Legalization is not.

  4. I’m sure this will all work out as long as the union keeps getting its dues.

  5. Oh, good, let’s look at the proposed reforms!

    “They include requiring a lieutenant (rather than a sergeant) to be present when search warrants are served,”

    Well that’s obviously shit since there’s at least two lieutenants now under indictment for not doing their jobs. Asking them to do even MORE just feels like it’s giving inmates even greater authority to run the asylum.

    “higher-level approval of various operations,”

    Ah, okay, kick it up the ladder of corruption. Sounds good.

    “supervisor review of “investigative efforts that support the search warrant affidavit to determine the sufficiency and efforts of the case agent,” ”

    Oh good, asking supervisors to…supervise? When we already have supervisors who weren’t supervising already under indictment? How fucking hard is it to get them to actually perform their job?

    “enhanced oversight of confidential informants”

    This one might actually be good depending on what it entails. Hopefully it means future Goines-es won’t be able to simply invent more CIs by themselves.

    “requiring approval by the chief’s office for no-knock warrants,”

    This feels like a huge step back since, I believe, Acevado already said he was scrapping no-knock warrants. Now he’s deciding that they’re okay as long as he’s in the loop?

    “and the use of body cameras during drug raids.”

    This makes one wonder how the fuck they managed to last this long without making this policy.

    1. Well that’s obviously shit since there’s at least two lieutenants now under indictment for not doing their jobs.

      Those supervising lieutenants now supposedly at these raids were likely sergeants before the promotion and are just as likely to have brought that diseased work ethic with them up through the ranks.

    2. We can’t have more oversight of confidential informants. How will we get the cooperation of CIs like Fuzzy Donlap if people find out he’s actually a tennis ball?

      1. Gotta find a way to get money to cover the cost of that missing camera, after all.

  6. his department has a systemic problem.

    Exactly. Since Goines is Black and Tuttle and Nicholas were white, it’s systemic *racism*.

    Am I doing this right?

  7. The whole good cop/bad cop question can be disposed of much more decisively. We need not enumerate what proportion of cops appears to be good or listen to someone’s anecdote about his Uncle Charlie, an allegedly good cop. We need only consider the following: (1) a cop’s job is to enforce the laws, all of them; (2) many of the laws are manifestly unjust, and some are even cruel and wicked; (3) therefore every cop has agreed to act as an enforcer for laws that are manifestly unjust or even cruel and wicked. There are no good cops.” ~Robert Higgs

  8. Sounds like Ogg wants Acevedo’s nuts in a jar.

    Meanwhile, somebody needs to take the Miami Vice DVDs out of the break room.

  9. So what are they going to do about the systemic Denial of constitutional Due Process of Law via issuance of warrants where there is no injured party making a claim against the other, just a cop &/or prosecutor that wants to go on a fishing trip? i.e. BAR Association statutory FRAUD!

  10. “Gerald Goines, the former narcotics officer who cited a heroin purchase that never happened to justify the raid that killed Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas in their home …He has now been charged with falsifying three other search warrants and stealing public money…”

    Wow, that’s some impressive qualified immunity Goines has shown!

    1. Yeah. There has never been a case with particular circumstances identical to the Tuttle raid, so all the participants get Qualified Immunity. Nothing to see here, move long.

  11. Down With the DRUG Czar!
    For over a century, and ramped up these past 50 years, eugenic pseudoscience and brutal superstition have been robbing, jailing and shooting people for seeking victimless enjoyment in plant leaves. Now, surprise, folks are angry at the police the prohibitionist kleptocracy orders to kill as many as it takes to keep those laws. Reason could break the gag order that keeps the Nixon-law-subsidized looter media from mentioning cause and effect or the LP alternative.

    1. The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act and Anslinger’s reefer madness campaign was Nixon’s fault?

      1. “You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

  12. Goines was also the arresting officer when George Floyd got popped for crack a few years ago and did some time in jail for it. Yep, same George Floyd who would be killed in Minneapolis and start all this shit going on now.

  13. Where is the damn shooting report for the Tuttle incident?

  14. This cop has been VERY dirty for a LONG time. He’s tainted thousands of cases, likely has put nundreds behind bars through his lies, drop bags of drugs, phoney “buys”, perjuring himself when swearing out warrants, ghost guns to conveinently “find”at “crime” scenes…….
    But there is NO WAY he’s been working under these “house rules” for so long and NO ONE ELSE has seen even a hint of his corruption. They have, and zipped it.
    The biblical punishment for bearing false witness against someone (and searing out a falsely based search warrant IS bearing false witness against another) is for the liar to suffer the same consequence his falsely accused victim did, or would have had the lie been believed.

    In this case, two innocents DIED in direct result of his false testimony. His penalty MUST be death. Preferably by firing squad, to better replicate the death his victims received in direct result of his LIES. Anyhting less is a travesty of justice.
    Further, EVERY person serving time as a result of his actions should be instantly freed, any pending charges based on HIS actioins or words must be dropped.

    Then a full investigeion, conducted by an entity OUTSIDE of Houston thus not involved in any way, into ALL the other officers with whom this guy was involved. Any who watched and kept their silence, and any who knew of his game, should also be dealt with, per the biblical prescriptions relating to this sort of travesty.

    1. Put him in a house and have the firing squad shoot blindly through the walls til they kill him, if you want the replicate what Mr Tuttle went through.

    2. In Tennessee the state bureau of investigation shooting review team has handled every officer involved shooting that I am aware of.

  15. already faced state charges (felony murder and tampering with a government document

    Remember, its not the murder you commit that gets you, its the coverup.

    If you’re a cop.

  16. Why is art Acevedo still chief? Why was he hired in the first place? He is a retired California highway patrol chief. The California highway patrol handles very limited law enforcement like traffic, dui, accident investigation, commercial vehicle safety, protective services, appeals court bailiff. Chp chief would simply do not have the experience to run a municipal department. I know he was chief in Austin but he was equally incompetent there as well. Fire art Acevedo!

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  18. And all that the Washington Post had about this was the copy of an AP story, that you can’t find without doing a word search, and that has had no comments in two days, meaning it’s buried pretty well. Guess Black cop killing and innocent White couple doesn’t fit the narrative.

  19. This is a positive first step. The next step is to audit the DA previously in charge to see why she was either negligent in duty, or part of the conspiracy.

    The next step after that would be the judges, since they’ve been rubber stamping these no-knock raids without question.

    Then when those two steps are done, the penultimate step would be to audit every motherfucking PD, DA, and Judge in America.

    Finally, a wood chipper will be necessary to be transported from site to site once these audits get rolling in earnest.

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