Murder or self-defense if an officer is killed during no-knock raid?
Use of forcible-entry raids to serve search warrants questioned.
Joshua Aaron Hall had been a resident of the Burleson County Jail for about a week when he requested a meeting with Gene Hermes, the sheriff ’s investigator who had locked him up for violating probation. The stocky lawman arrived in the featureless interview room the morning of Dec. 13, 2013. He asked whether they would be talking about Hall’s case.
“No,” said Hall, a methamphetamine user and petty criminal who was facing his most serious jail time.
“I know of an illegal grow operation,” Hall volunteered.
Hermes nodded. “Big grow, small grow?”
“It’s kind of small,” Hall said. “But that ain’t the point. It’s illegal. Weapons are involved.”
The scruffy informant told the investigator that he had a friend named Henry Magee who lived in a double-wide trailer off Deer Running Road in Somerville. Magee,
he said, had been cultivating marijuana hydroponically in the front left bedroom. When Hall had last been there, he had seen a dozen 6-foot stalks ready for harvest.
He told the investigator that Magee went by Hank, and that he was white and about 30.
Had Magee ever said what he would do if law enforcement showed up?
“He’s a laid-back guy; he really is,” Hall answered. Then again, he said, he had seen two rifles and three handguns at Magee’s place.
Hermes shared a video of the interview with a colleague, Fredrich Adam Sowders.
The investigators knew Hall was untested as an informant. But there is nothing in court documents to suggest that they took steps to corroborate his story.
Nonetheless, five days after getting the tip, Sowders consulted the district attorney’s office and typed an application for a search warrant. He closed by asking for authority to raid the residence without first knocking on the door, a tactic allowed by the Supreme Court when police demonstrate a “reasonable suspicion” that announcing themselves beforehand would be dangerous or risk destruction of evidence.
The deputy omitted Hall’s description of his “laidback” friend, and wrote, “Hall advised that Magee has made the statement that he is not afraid to use the weapons that he has.”
The affidavit also did not disclose, because the investigators did not know, that Magee’s girlfriend, Kori White, was four months pregnant.
That afternoon, the deputy had the warrant signed by a district judge, Reva L. Towslee Corbett. It authorized him “to dispense with the usual requirement that you will knock and announce your purpose before entering.”
BELL COUNTY Demonstrating suspicion
Three months later, 85 miles to the northwest, another informant found cause to give up an acquaintance. This time, it concerned a career criminal named Marvin Louis Guy, who the informant said was dealing cocaine from his car in Killeen.
Guy, then 49, had stayed out of prison for nearly four years and moved to Killeen. Although unemployed for the past few months, Guy had otherwise managed to find steady work as a nightshift dishwasher.
Best of all, he had met an attractive and spirited widow named Shirley Whittington.
“He was getting himself together,” his half brother Garett Galloway said.
By Guy’s own admission, that did not mean he was not smoking weed and, on occasion, consuming cocaine. The informant said it went further. He told a narcotics investigator, Officer John A. Moseley, that a heavyset black man known to him as “G” sold drugs from a blue Crown Victoria on Circle M Drive, according to an affidavit.
Unlike his counterparts in Burleson County, Moseley followed up with some basic legwork. He eyeballed the Crown Vic in front of the apartment building at 1104 Circle M and traced the license plate to Guy.
Agents watched the apartment intermittently during April, noting heavy foot traffic and encounters with Guy in his car. They sent the informant back to confirm that Guy still had cocaine, but did not arrange for a buy. He reported that Guy regularly carried a handgun.
On the afternoon of May 8, Moseley typed up an affidavit and requested a no-knock search warrant and a municipal judge signed it.
BURLESON COUNTY Big risks and ‘minimal’ training
Magee, 28 at the time of the raid, had been seeing Kori White, then 21, for about a year and a half.
White said that he never told her explicitly what he was doing behind the locked door, and that she never witnessed a transaction.
The Burleson deputies often summoned a SWAT team from a larger agency on the rare occasions when high-risk search warrants were to be served.
But for the raid on Magee’s trailer, they went it alone.
They had a description of the trailer’s interior from the informant. But because they confused his directions, they thought Magee’s bedroom was to the left when in fact it was to the right. When the first flash-bang detonated outside the wrong end of the trailer, it did not immediately awaken the couple.
Then came a crashing thud at the door. “Hank, what was that?” White asked.
“Who is it?” Magee shouted, according to White. “Who’s there?” No answer, then another thud at the door.
Magee scrambled into his bedroom and retrieved an AR-10 semi-automatic rifle from a closet.
As he re-entered the living room, the front door burst open, followed by a deafening explosion. White screamed as a dark figure crossed the threshold.
Magee raised the rifle and fired several times toward the door, just above White on the couch. She crawled into the bedroom.
Only then, she said, did she hear the announcement: “Burleson County Sheriff ’s Office! Come out with your hands in the air.”
Magee dropped the rifle and complied. White followed him out the door, stepping over a broad-shouldered body as blood pooled on the wooden flooring. Adam Sowders had been struck in the head.
At the county jail, Magee insisted that he had not heard the deputies announce themselves and that he had fired in self-defense when he saw someone bursting through the door. But an investigator explained that Magee would be charged with killing a peace officer, a capital crime.
State investigators’ total haul, according to an inventory, consisted of 10 cannabis plants and a few Mason jars and baggies of marijuana.
BELL COUNTY ‘I’m hit’
Marvin Guy recalls having an eerie feeling about that night.
By 3 a.m., Guy had positioned a green recliner under the front doorknob of the apartment to deter intruders. He and Whittington argued again, heated enough that she stayed in the master bedroom in the back while he retired to the spare bedroom looking onto the street. He fell asleep on a mattress
on the floor, two semi-automatic handguns within reach: a 9 mm and a .45-caliber.
Not long after, Detective Charles D. Dinwiddie, a leader of Killeen’s SWAT team, began briefing his men.
According to excerpts from police reports, six officers surrounded Guy’s car, thinking he might be inside. On the back side, a three-man team broke the master-bedroom window.
Guy says he had his back to the window when he was awakened by shattering glass. He insists that he did not hear any announcement and thought he was being robbed. He grabbed one of his guns, sprang to his feet on the mattress, gripped the weapon with both hands and began firing, he says.
Officer Odis Denton, the sixth man in the entry formation, felt a searing pain in his upper left thigh. “I’m hit; goddamn it, I’m hit,” he said.
As the smoke cleared, the team could see a second officer on the ground. It was Dinwiddie, lying on his left side, about a dozen feet from the door.
Two officers dragged Dinwiddie’s motionless body out of the line of fire, and a third pulled Denton to safety.
Guy says he eventually heard shouts that it was police.
Doctors discovered that a single slug had moved through Dinwiddie’s jaw, throat, first vertebra and spinal cord before lodging near the base of his brain. After a two-day vigil, his family agreed to remove him from life support.
Tests concluded that the bullets removed from Dinwiddie’s spine and Denton’s leg had been fired by Guy’s Taurus Millennium 9 mm Luger, according to an affidavit.
The total take from the raid, according to Moseley’s affidavit, amounted to “approximately 1 gram of suspected cocaine.”
BURLESON COUNTY Considering the alternative
Almost two months after the killing of Adam Sowders, 12 grand jurors convened on the third floor of the Burleson County Courthouse to decide whether Hank Magee should be indicted on a charge of capital murder.
Magee’s father hired a prominent Houston defense lawyer, Dick DeGuerin. DeGuerin began making the case that the use of force had been disproportionate for a minor drug suspect, and that Magee, “like any homeowner,” had fired in self-defense.
The district attorney, Julie Renken, believed that the no-knock warrant had been legal. But to convict Magee of capital murder, she would have to prove that he had known his victim was a law enforcement officer. Otherwise, he had an arguable right to defend himself against a perceived threat of deadly force. On that score, Renken, in her first year in office, saw troubling flaws in the chaotic execution of the raid.
The evidence indicated that the deputies had not announced themselves clearly before smashing through the door, she said.
The grand jury indicted Magee only on a count of possession of more than 4 ounces of marijuana while using a deadly weapon, a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison.
He is still awaiting a trial.
BELL COUNTY In the name of safety
Marvin Guy faces a much more ominous fate than Hank Magee.
Guy is black and poor and unlike Magee could not afford private lawyers. He had a far lengthier criminal record. And when the Bell County grand jury met, there were no sympathetic witnesses to support Guy’s assertion that he had not known he was firing at the police.
Typically in no-knock raids, officers yell “police, search warrant” only as they storm into a residence. In the after-action reports viewed by The Times, eight Killeen officers are recorded as saying they gave such notice while 14 said they heard others do so.
But a dozen more officers did not mention any announcement.
The grand jury indicted Guy on counts of capital murder and attempted capital murder. Four months later, the district attorney, Henry Garza, announced that he would seek the death penalty.
Guy has frustrated several court-appointed lawyers by insisting that they present a narrative that obscures questions of self-defense: that police and prosecution have framed him to cover up a death by friendly fire.
Nearly three years after the shootings, Guy still does not have a trial date.
Henry “Hank” Magee sits outside his double-wide trailer home off Deer Running Road in Somerville. The home still shows bullet holes from a Burleson County raid in which a deputy died. Magee was not indicted on a capital murder charge.
Curtains from the apartment of Marvin Louis Guy show bullet holes from a raid by Killeen’s SWAT team in which an investigator died. A Bell County grand jury indicted Guy on counts of capital murder and attempted capital murder.
Marvin Louis Guy “was getting himself together,” his half brother said; he was dating Shirley Whittington at the time of the raid. Detective Charles D. Dinwiddie (right), a leader of Killeen’s SWAT team, was killed in the operation.