Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Federal Indictment Says Deadly Houston Drug Raid Was Based on Lies From Start to Finish

By Jacob Sullum - November 20, 2019 at 02:20PM

Today the Justice Department announced that three people have been indicted on federal charges because of their roles in a fraudulent no-knock drug raid that killed a middle-aged Houston couple on January 28. The indictment alleges not only that Gerald Goines, the narcotics officer who spearheaded the operation, lied in his search warrant affidavit, but that Patricia Ann Garcia, whose 911 calls prompted Goines' investigation, lied when she implicated Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas in drug dealing.

The upshot is that the basis for the raid was a lie from start to finish. That realization contradicts Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo's insistence that there were sound reasons, apart from Goines' prevarications, to think Tuttle and Nicholas were selling heroin.

Goines, who already faced state murder charges in connection with the raid that killed Tuttle and Nicholas, has been charged with violating their Fourth Amendment rights under color of law. The Justice Department says "Goines faces up to life in prison" if convicted of those charges, although the statute also allows the death penalty for violations with lethal consequences.

Goines, who retired in March after 34 years with the Houston Police Department, claimed in his affidavit that a confidential informant had purchased heroin from a middle-aged "white male, whose name is unknown," at the house on Harding Street that Tuttle and Nicholas shared. But the raid, which was executed the day after that purported sale, discovered no heroin and no evidence of drug dealing. Soon afterward Houston police investigators concluded that the confidential informant described by Goines did not exist. Goines then changed his story, claiming he had bought the heroin himself. According to the federal indictment, that was also a lie.

The Justice Department says Goines "made numerous materially false statements in the state search warrant" and afterward repeatedly lied about the circumstances of the raid. In addition to the civil rights charges, Goines is accused of falsifying records and obstructing an official proceeding.

The indictment also charges Steven Bryant, a Houston narcotics officer who helped back up Goines' story, with obstructing justice by falsifying records. Bryant, who supposedly identified the "brown powder substance" that the nonexistent informant never bought as black-tar heroin, already faced a state charge of tampering with a governmental record. The federal charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

The biggest revelation in the indictment is that the January 8 report about drug activity at the Harding Street house was completely false. Yet Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has repeatedly cited that report as evidence that his department right to investigate Tuttle and Nicholas.

According Acevedo, a woman called police on January 8 to complain that her daughter was "doing heroin" inside the house. At a press conference three days after the raid, Acevedo described the call this way: "The caller wanted to remain anonymous but said that her daughter was inside the residence 'doing drugs, and they have a lot of guns in the residence.' She stated there was also a female in the house." The woman said she had looked through a window, and she saw that "her daughter was in the house, and there were guns and heroin."

When two patrol officers arrived in response to that call, the woman was nowhere to be found. According to Acevedo, they questioned a passer-by and afterward heard her say into her cellphone, "Hey, the police are at the dope house." When the officers called the woman who had made the report, Acevedo said, "She stated she did not want to give any information because they were drug dealers and they would kill her. She wanted the officers to go into the house and get her daughter." The officers explained that they had no authority to enter the house.

The federal indictment says the caller, which it identifies as Garcia, made all of that up. Garcia is charged with "convey[ing] false information by making several fake 911 calls," an offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

Acevedo said Garcia's calls showed there was legitimate basis for the investigation that led to the Harding Street raid. He called the home a "problem location" and a locally notorious "drug house." He even claimed that people who lived nearby had thanked police for raiding the house. Yet neighbors interviewed by local news outlets described Tuttle and Nicholas, who had lived on Harding Street for two decades, as perfectly nice and said they had never seen any signs of criminal activity.

Even after Goines' lies were revealed, Acevedo insisted that police "had probable cause to be there," relying on Garcia's false report. "I still think they're heroes," Acevedo said of the officers who killed Tuttle and Nicholas after breaking into their home without warning based on a fraudulent search warrant stemming from a false report. If the lack of oversight that allowed this disastrous operation to unfold were not reason enough to demand Acevedo's resignation, his dogged defense of the investigation and his casual defamation of Tuttle and Nicholas would be.

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