The Houston Police Department is saying goodbye to “no-knock” warrants after a drug raid left two civilians dead and wounded five police officers, including two undercover cops relieved of duty.
Police Chief Art Acevedo is promising major policy changes after the deadly Jan. 28 raid, local station KHOU 11 reported.
“The no-knock warrants are going to go away — like leaded gasoline in this city,” Acevedo said at a town hall meeting hosted by the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice on Monday. “You’re going to see those go away.”
Authorities are still investigating the incident involving local couple Dennis Tuttle, 59, and Rhogena Nicholas, 58, who were killed after opening fire on officers executing a no-knock warrant at their home. Five officers, including one whose claims were the basis for the warrant, were also injured in the shootout.
Moving forward, the police chief said officers will need to request an exemption from his office before conducting a no-knock raid, which are raids in police enter a dwelling without giving any notification first to the resident. Such raids are likely to be replaced with knock-and-announce raids, in which knock and announce themselves as cops before entering, by force if necessary, often mere seconds after making their presence known.
The fallout from the botched raid widened Wednesday as Houston prosecutors announced they will review more than 1,400 criminal cases involving narcotics Officer Gerald Goines — whom the police chief has accused of lying in an affidavit justifying the raid — and the FBI will open an investigation into whether the couple’s civil rights were violated by the police’s actions. Such an early entry into this kind of case by the Trump-era Justice Department is unusual.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said Wednesday that her office’s review will look at cases going back decades that involved Goines, a 30-year HPD veteran. The Associated Press reported that 27 of those cases are active.
Tempers flared during Monday night’s meeting as concerned residents expressed outrage over the actions of the HPD officers.
“I just want to say (you’re) a coward and all your officers are cowards,” resident Roman Randolph told the police chief.
Eileen De Los Santos, a neighbor of Tuttle and Nicholas, said she now feels unsafe in her own home “because I don’t trust if someone is going to knock down my door and shoot my dogs and kill me and my husband,” according to the news station.
Speaking of her slain friends, Los Santos added: “The family was murdered. I would like for someone to use the word ‘murdered,’ because they were murdered.”
Documents obtained by Houston station KPRC alleged that “material untruths or lies” were used to secure the search warrant for the couple’s southeast Houston home. Police said the warrant was justified by a tip from a confidential informant who claimed he once purchased heroin there. HPD’s deadly raid turned up no evidence of the drug, however.
Police documents name Goines as the one who gave the names of two confidential informants, one of whom said he bought the drugs at Goines’ instruction from a different home five miles away from where the raid occurred. The documents also noted that “investigators interviewed everyone on a list of informants that had worked for Officer Goines and all denied making a buy for the officer from the Harding Street home or ever buying drugs from Tuttle or Nicholas,” NBC News reported.
“I’m very confident we’re going to have criminal charges on one or more police officers,” Acevedo told the crowd of angry locals, some whom cut him off during his remarks.
Goines has since been suspended, but Houston residents are demanding better.
“All I want is the law to change,” said Aurora Charles, whose brother, Ponciano Montemayor, Jr. was killed six years ago when HPD officers arrived at his home with a drug warrant for someone else. “You cannot go by the word of an informant. You’ve got to do some more investigation. That’s all I ask.”
Activists who gathered outside the Houston Police headquarters to protest this week called for Goines to be held accountable and demanded that all his previous cases involving confidential informants and no-knock warrants be reviewed. Acevedeo pledged transparency in the investigation, and on Wednesday, KPRC obtained documents showing a pattern of issues in one of the officer’s previous cases.
An ongoing lawsuit over a drug raid from October 2011 revealed details eerily similar to those of the raid on Harding Street, most notably that no drugs were found. In that case, Goines had also obtained a warrant through the use of a confidential informant.
The man on whom the warrant was served claimed Goines and another officer had unlawfully entered his home and later sued for civil rights violations.
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