Former Houston police officer charged with murder over raid
HOUSTON (AP) — A former Houston police officer has been charged with murder in connection with the deadly January drug raid of a home that killed a couple who lived there and injured five officers, prosecutors announced Friday.
Former Officer Gerald Goines, who was shot in the ensuing gunfight during the Jan. 28 raid, is charged with two counts of felony murder after police accused him of lying in a search warrant about having a confidential informant buying heroin at the home. Goines later acknowledged there was no informant and that he bought the drugs himself, authorities said.
Another former officer, Steven Bryant, was charged with tampering with a government record for allegedly providing false information in a report after the raid that supported Goines’ story about a confidential informant.
“We recognize that the community has been violated and I want to assure my fellow Houstonians and other residents of Harris County that we are getting to the truth,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said at a news conference. “Each day we uncover more and with each fact, we work toward doing justice.”
Goines’ attorney, Nicole DeBorde, did not immediately return a phone call or email seeking comment. But she has previously said Goines has done nothing wrong.
Andy Drumheller, Bryant’s attorney, said in an email that he had not yet seen the charge but he was “troubled that a person who wasn’t involved in drafting the affidavit for the search warrant, never fired his weapon and didn’t enter the home ... was given a couple of hours notice that he’s been charged with a state jail felony on a Friday afternoon and needs to turn himself in.”
Both former officers surrendered to authorities Friday and appeared at a bond hearing. Goines was given bonds totaling $300,000 and Bryant was given a $50,000 bond. Drumheller said Bryant planned to post bond.
If convicted, Goines faces up to life in prison. Bryant faces up to two years in state jail.
At a separate news conference, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said the charges against the two ex-officers were a result of his agency’s investigation and are an example of how a police department can ask tough questions about its actions.
“We are a department that will vigorously pursue the rule of law, including holding our officers accountable as we did here,” Acevedo said.
Killed in the raid were Rhogena Nicholas, 58, and 59-year-old Dennis Tuttle, 59.
Family and friends of Tuttle and Nicholas have continuously dismissed allegations the couple sold drugs. Police found small amounts of marijuana and cocaine in the house, but no heroin.
Ogg offered an apology to the couple’s families.
“I want to tell them how sorry we are as a city and a county for the actions that resulted in the loss of their loved ones lives and that our work is dedicated to ensuring that their loved ones receive justice,” Ogg said.
In a statement, Michael Doyle and Charles Bourque, attorneys for the Nicholas family attorneys, called the charges against Goines and Bryant important developments but only the “beginning of the pursuit of justice” in the couple’s deaths.
Initially, Houston police maintained that after officers entered the home, Nicholas tried to take away a shotgun from an officer and was fatally shot by officers who saw what was happening. But an independent review by the family of Nicholas earlier this year cast doubt on that portrayal.
Following the shooting, prosecutors began reviewing more than 2,000 cases tied to Goines and Bryant. In June, prosecutors said their investigation has grown into a probe of 14,000 cases handled by the Houston Police Department’s narcotics division.
Both officers were relieved of duty after the shooting and later retired.
Ogg said prosecutors decided to file charges instead of waiting to present the case to a grand jury because they feared the two officers might flee the area and they feared for the safety of witnesses.
The case is still set to be presented to a grand jury in the next few weeks and the panel could file additional charges against the two officers or charges against other officers, Ogg said.
“The purpose of the broader investigation is ... to determine if this was single act by rogue officers or whether it’s part of a greater and pre-existing problem in that squad,” Ogg said.
Acevedo said neither his agency’s investigation nor an ongoing probe by federal authorities has shown that the two ex-officers’ actions were part of a systemic problem within the police department.
Acevedo said he believes the officers who entered the home were also victims as they were led astray by the actions of two officers who “dishonored the badge.”
This is a long one. Have two different articles and excerpts from three others. The tl;dr is long too, sorry.
Cops claim a woman called 911 saying she's worried her daughter is using heroin at a house. Cop then claims he had an informant buy heroin from people at the house. Cop hands over two bags of heroin as evidence. Based on this cop gets no knock warrant to raid the house.
Cops execute a no-knock raid at 5 p.m. in plain clothes. As soon as they bust the door down they shotgun kill the dogs. They allege the homeowner fired at one officer hitting him with a handgun round and then they returned fire killing the the man and woman. Four officers total are wounded by handgun fire during all this. Police find no handguns on the premises other than the cops'. They find two rifles and two shotguns. They find no heroin, just a very small amount of weed and coke.
Police begin investigation. They find lead detective lied about the drug buy. No informant exists. They ask him where he got the heroin from that he turned in and he can't explain it. Not the first time this cop has been accused of drug case misconduct/perjury. Cops were not wearing body cameras during the raid. Cops refuse to release 911 call that allegedly started it all.
Houston police chief announces today they are suspending no knock raids.
Police union head went on twitter crying about being sick of cops having targets on their back when the story broke. When protests began he threatened critics saying the police were watching them. Protesters claim they were being photographed and video recorded by police and now feel threatened.
Houston police to end use of no-knock warrants, chief says
The Houston Police Department will end its use of controversial no-knock warrants in most situations, Chief Art Acevedo said during a contentious town hall meeting three weeks after a deadly Pecan Park drug raid that left two people dead and five officers injured.
"The no-knock warrants are going to go away like leaded gasoline in this city," Acevedo told the crowd of activists, reformers and concerned community members gathered at Talento BilingŁe de Houston.
After the event - organized by the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice - Acevedo said any situation in which a no-knock raid would be required would have to receive a special exemption from his office.
"I'm 99.9 percent sure we won't be using them," he said. "If for some reason there would be a specific case, that would come from my office."
Given the wounded officers and the two slain civilians, the chief said he didn't "see the value" in the controversial raids.
"So, that's probably going to go by the wayside," he said.
The news came during the meeting late Monday after more than an hour of questions from a furious crowd that repeatedly pressed Acevedo on the conduct of his undercover officers, the use of no-knock warrants and inflammatory comments from Houston police union President Joe Gamaldi who recently seemed to suggest the department was surveilling law enforcement critics.
And, despite pushback earlier in the day from a defense lawyer representing the case agent at the center of the botched bust, Acevedo doubled down on his previous statements about the likelihood of charges against the police involved.
"I'm very confident we're going to have criminal charges on one or more of the officers," he said.
The crowd greeted his declaration with a chorus of angry voices demanding: "All of them."
Still, Acevedo said he wouldn't agree to let the Texas Ranger or the FBI take over the investigation.
"I feel very strongly that a police department that is not capable of investigating itself and finding malfeasance and criminal misconduct," he said, "we should just shut down -- and that's just not the case here."
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg also tried to assure the crowd that her office would investigate and that bad actors would not be allowed off the hook, but pushed back against "mob justice."
"There is a process - it is the justice system," she said. "What you've seen is more accountability - grand juries are returning more true-bills, and we're prosecuting them."
When asked whether he would fire Gamaldi or others allegedly surveilling or harassing activists, Acevedo said he wouldn't deal with speculation. In response, activist Shere Dore fired back with an allegation that earlier in the day police came out and took pictures of protesters gathered outside Houston police headquarters to demand murder charges against the case agent behind the raid.
Acevedo asked for video to look into the claim.
He went on to say that he would roll out a new policy in the coming weeks to make sure that officers participating in raids wear body cameras; the fact that they didn't in the Harding Street raid was a point of contention afterward, given the lack of evidence to counter the initial narrative.
But Acevedo's sweeping announcements weren't enough to placate some of the town hall attendees.
One member of the audience, Tomaro Bell, expressed indignation over police use of no-knock warrants.
"I do believe this officer is going to be charged with murder," she said, of Goines. "But the systemic problems that exist in the undercover narcotics division will not be resolved with this officer charged with murder."
Relatives of several people killed in no-knock raids said they believe more investigation was needed before using the raid.
Aurora Charles said her brother, 55-year-old Ponciano Montemayor Jr., was killed during a no-knock raid in September 2013.
"I just want to see change, that's it," she said. "They've got to do their homework before they go in with these warrants."
For some in the crowd, the killing of the Tuttles brought back memories of the killing of Joe Campos Torres in 1977.
"We've been down this road before," said Johnny Mata, a longtime civil rights activist. Still, he tried to assure them.
"To those who feel down and depressed, that nothing has changed, I'll tell you, it has," he said.
At the same time, he called on Gamaldi to reach out to activists.
"An apology is still needed," he said, suggesting the union could recall his election. "We don't need any demagoguery."
HPD Chief Acevedo says narcotics cop committed likely crime by lying in affidavit for deadly raid
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 press conference, Police Chief Art Acevedo said Gerald Goines, the veteran narcotics case agent at the center of the controversy, will likely 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 a 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, and infuriated members of the department's rank-and-file, 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. We know already there's a crime that's been committed. 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. He pledged to back any reforms needed to avoid similar misconduct in the future.
"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 cell phone of officer 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 by Acevedo.
HPD Chief Art Acevedo provides an update to investigation of an officer-involved shooting on Jan. 28 that ended with 2 people dead and five officers injured.
Media: Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle
In the initial HPD warrant, Goines wrote that he monitored a buy at the home 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 the residence was a drug house.
HPD investigators have not been unable to locate the 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, and they all denied making a buy at the Tuttle 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."
The allegations of false information used to conduct a raid that led to the death of two residents and left five officers injured 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 about the location from a woman reporting to be the mother of a young woman using heroin there.
"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."
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 botched raid.
"When laziness includes lying on an affidavit, you're more than likely going to get arrested," Acevedo said. "And we will have no problem putting ... handcuffs on someone who violated the public trust."
The chief said he had spoken directly to the family, but gave no details.
"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."
Four officers were struck by semi-automatic pistol fire and another officer was injured in the knee but not by gunfire, officials said. Two officers were in critical but stable condition and undergoing surgery Monday night, Acevedo said. One officer with a shoulder wound was released late Monday, the department tweeted. The two other officers are expected to fully recover, but remained in the hospital on Monday night.
Initially, Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, tweeted that five officers had been shot.
"We are sick and tired of having targets on our backs," Gamaldi said at the police press conference. "We are sick and tired of dirtbags trying to take our lives when all we're trying to do is protect this community and protect our families."
According to a search warrant return obtained first by ABC13 on Feb. 8, police recovered four guns, about 18 grams of marijuana and about 1.5 grams of cocaine after the raid.
The weapons they recovered included a Beretta shotgun, a Winchester rifle and a Remington shotgun and rifle, according to the report.
"Previous allegations surfaced about Goines in at least two drug buys, with the officer accused of lying under oath and mishandling drug evidence, and questions arising about his use of a confidential informant," Blakinger and Barned-Smith write. One case, where witnesses contradicted Goines' testimony tying the defendant, Otis Mallet, to a stash of crack cocaine, is still making its way through the courts. "The new evidence discovered in this case shows that Officer Goines testified falsely and that no drug deal, as described by Goines, took place," Mallet's lawyer wrote in a brief. "Mallet was convicted based on Goines' perjured testimony."
Blakinger and Barned-Smith also note incidents in which Goines was reprimanded for unprofessional behavior, including threats of violence, and a confrontation in which Goines was shot while undercover by a man who believed "the officer was menacing him with a weapon." A grand jury declined to indict the man, which suggests his fear was reasonable in the circumstances. "Despite the occasional reprimands," Blakinger and Barned-Smith say, "Goines generally garnered positive evaluations."