Raid probe puts unit un­der scru­tiny

Acevedo as­sures ‘ex­ten­sive’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion of drug di­vi­sion to come

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By St. John Barned-Smith, Keri Blakinger and James Pinker­ton

An in­ter­nal Hous­ton po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion has un­cov­ered alarm­ing de­fi­cien­cies in the depart­ment’s nar­cotics di­vi­sion that led to an al­legedly fal­si­fied search war­rant used to jus­tify a south­east Hous­ton drug raid last month that killed two Pe­can Park res­i­dents and in­jured five of­fi­cers, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments ob­tained Fri­day by the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle.

In a hastily called news con­fer­ence, Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo said Ger­ald Goines, the vet­eran nar­cotics case agent at the cen­ter of the con­tro­versy, likely will face crim­i­nal charges. The in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed he al­legedly lied about us­ing a con­fi­den­tial in­for­mant to con­duct an un­der­cover buy at the res­i­dence on Hard­ing Street. The buy led to a raid and fa­tal gun­fight at the house the next day, killing Den­nis Tut­tle, 59, and Rhogena Ni­cholas, 58, and in­jur­ing five Hous­ton Po­lice Depart­ment of­fi­cers.

The de­ba­cle, which has in­fu­ri­ated of­fi­cers

across the depart­ment and which crit­ics say has dam­aged pub­lic trust in HPD, also prompted Acevedo to or­der an “ex­ten­sive au­dit” of the 175-mem­ber nar­cotics di­vi­sion and an ex­am­i­na­tion of Goines’ re­cent cases.

“We know that there’s al­ready a crime that’s been com­mit­ted,” Acevedo said. “It’s a se­ri­ous crime when we pre­pare a doc­u­ment to go into some­body’s home, into the sanc­tity that is some­body’s home. It has to be truth­ful, it has to be hon­est, it has to be fac­tual. … There’s high prob­a­bil­ity there will be a crim­i­nal charge.”

Hous­ton Po­lice Of­fi­cers’ Union Pres­i­dent Joe Gamaldi said that while he was “ex­tremely con­cerned and dis­turbed” by the al­le­ga­tions that came to light Fri­day, they were “not in­dica­tive” of the per­for­mance of the rest of the depart­ment’s 5,200 of­fi­cers.

“We cer­tainly feel this is an iso­lated in­ci­dent,” he said. “How­ever, we will cer­tainly sup­port any re­view or changes to pol­icy that need to be made in or­der to en­sure that some­thing like this never hap­pens again.”

The crit­i­cal al­le­ga­tions were out­lined in a sworn af­fi­davit writ­ten by HPD Of­fi­cer R. Bass, with the depart­ment’s Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tions Unit, who asked a judge for a search war­rant to ex­am­ine the cell­phone of Steven Bryant, an un­der­cover nar­cotics of­fi­cer re­lieved of duty af­ter the shoot­ing.

The Chron­i­cle nor­mally does not pub­lish the names of un­der­cover of­fi­cers, but Goines and Bryant were iden­ti­fied in an af­fi­davit re­lated to a search war­rant and both have been re­lieved of duty.

No-knock war­rant

In the ini­tial HPD war­rant, Goines wrote that he mon­i­tored a deal by a con­fi­den­tial in­for­mant who iden­ti­fied the sub­stance that was pur­chased as heroin and said there was a 9mm hand­gun in the house. Po­lice ob­tained a no-knock war­rant — al­low­ing them to en­ter unan­nounced — and burst into the small south­east home the next day to a hail of gun­fire.

At the end of the shootout, both Tut­tle and Ni­cholas had been shot to death and five of­fi­cers were in­jured — four by gun­fire. Po­lice found 18 grams of mar­i­juana — about half an ounce — and a lit­tle more than a gram of white pow­der, but no heroin or traf­fick­ing para­pher­na­lia. Af­ter the fa­tal op­er­a­tion, neigh­bors pushed back on as­ser­tions by po­lice that the res­i­dence was a drug house.

HPD in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not been able to lo­cate con­fi­den­tial in­for­mants who Goines claimed — in two sep­a­rate in­ter­views — made the un­der­cover pur­chases at the Pe­can Park home, ac­cord­ing to Bass’ af­fi­davit.

When de­tec­tives talked to the in­for­mants, both said they’d worked for Goines but never pur­chased drugs at the 7815 Hard­ing home, where Tut­tle and Ni­cholas were killed. In­ves­ti­ga­tors then got a full list of Goines’ con­fi­den­tial in­for­mants, who all de­nied mak­ing a buy at the house or ever pur­chas­ing nar­cotics from Ni­cholas or Tut­tle.

Bryant told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he had re­trieved two bags of heroin from the cen­ter con­sole of Goines’ po­lice car at the in­struc­tion of an­other of­fi­cer. That was not con­sis­tent with the af­fi­davit used to ob­tain the war­rant for the Jan. 28 raid, which said Bryant iden­ti­fied heroin brought out of the house. Though he took the two bags of drugs for test­ing to de­ter­mine that they were heroin, Bryant even­tu­ally said he had never seen the nar­cotics in ques­tion be­fore re­triev­ing them from the car.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors are re­view­ing Goines’ past cases, Acevedo said, adding that he’s as­signed As­sis­tant Chief Pe­dro Lopez to take a broader look “to make sure that we’re not be­ing my­opic, that we look at our en­tire nar­cotics op­er­a­tion out there, in terms of the street-level units; and they’ll be con­duct­ing a very ex­ten­sive au­dit.” Re­newed calls for scru­tiny

The al­le­ga­tions of false in­for­ma­tion used to con­duct the raid fur­ther stunned and an­gered res­i­dents. It marked one of most sig­nif­i­cant cases of po­lice mis­con­duct within the nar­cotics di­vi­sion in decades.

“When I joined this po­lice depart­ment I told my peo­ple that if you lie you die,” Acevedo he said. “I’ve been here over two years and you will not find any­one here that has a sus­tained dis­hon­esty vi­o­la­tion who is a mem­ber of this depart­ment.”

As Fri­day’s rev­e­la­tions raised re­newed calls for out­side scru­tiny, Acevedo dis­missed the need for an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“The Hous­ton Po­lice Depart­ment is con­duct­ing a ro­bust in­ves­ti­ga­tion, a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion, an im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion into every­thing that oc­curred lead­ing up to and dur­ing that raid,” he said, re­peat­ing past prom­ises of trans­parency.

How­ever, he was em­phatic his of­fi­cers had le­git­i­mate rea­sons to in­ves­ti­gate the house, cit­ing a 911 call from a woman re­port­ing to be the mother of a young woman us­ing heroin at the lo­ca­tion.

“We have the CAD (Com­puter Aided Dis­patch), we have the au­dio, we have the pa­trol units that re­sponded,” Acevedo said. “This was not just an in­ves­ti­ga­tor who de­cided to go tar­get a house, as far as we’ve de­ter­mined so far, for no rea­son.”

The Chron­i­cle has re­quested a copy of the 911 call Acevedo ref­er­enced, but HPD has asked Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton to al­low the re­quest to be with­held.

Mayor Sylvester Turner called for a “full and thor­ough” in­ves­ti­ga­tion, urg­ing that it be com­pleted “as soon as pos­si­ble.”

“I will re­frain from com­ment­ing about it un­til I have all facts be­fore me,” he said, in an emailed state­ment.

Har­ris County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Kim Ogg said her of­fice was con­tin­u­ing to work with po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter.

“Af­ter a thor­ough re­view, our Civil Rights Di­vi­sion pros­e­cu­tors will present this case to a grand jury to de­ter­mine if any crim­i­nal charges are war­ranted,” Ogg said, in an emailed state­ment.

For­mer Chief Charles A. McClel­land said the scan­dal con­sti­tutes se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions of civil and con­sti­tu­tional rights, and pos­si­bly puts the city in civil jeop­ardy.

“It goes to the high­est type of cor­rup­tion any time po­lice of­fi­cers are ac­cused of fab­ri­cat­ing ev­i­dence,” he said. “And it has be­trayed the pub­lic trust.”

Pend­ing cases at risk

McClel­land, who al­lowed FBI agents to re­view HPD in­ves­ti­ga­tions into a num­ber of po­lice bru­tal­ity cases, said the scan­dal mer­ited an ex­ter­nal probe.

“If I was chief, I would also ask the FBI to con­duct its own in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” he said. “Ev­ery­body at HPD needs to be held ac­count­able — from Goines’ su­per­vi­sors all the way to the chief of po­lice.”

Hous­ton de­fense at­tor­neys warned that Goines’ con­duct could jeop­ar­dize many pend­ing cases.

“The sad­dest part of all of this, is this guy prob­a­bly would have got­ten away with it, but for the fact it was a botched raid and po­lice of­fi­cers were shot and in­no­cent peo­ple killed,” said Doug Murphy, a crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­ney and pres­i­dent of Har­ris County Crim­i­nal Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion.

Acevedo showed lit­tle tol­er­ance for the al­leged con­duct of his of­fi­cers and later ex­pressed com­pas­sion for the rel­a­tives of the cou­ple slain in the raid.

“I feel re­ally badly for the Tut­tle fam­ily, be­cause no mat­ter what we find there will al­ways be a doubt,” Acevedo said. “I’m not say­ing we’re not go­ing to find things but there’s al­ways ‘what could they have done dif­fer­ently,’ and my heart goes out to them be­cause they have a lot of unan­swered ques­tions.”

Eliz­a­beth Con­ley / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo has or­dered an “ex­ten­sive au­dit” of the 175-mem­ber nar­cotics di­vi­sion af­ter a botched drug raid Jan. 28 left two civil­ians dead and five of­fi­cers in­jured.

Eliz­a­beth Con­ley / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

An in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Hous­ton Po­lice re­veals an of­fi­cer al­legedly lied about us­ing a con­fi­den­tial in­for­mant to con­duct an un­der­cover buy at 7815 Hard­ing Street.

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