On January 28, 2019, the Houston Police Department staged a militarized “no-knock” raid on a residence at 7815 Harding Street. The raid became infamously known as the Harding Street Raid. When the police gunfire ended, all the occupants in the residence lay dead: 59-year-old Dennis Tuttle, Rhogena Nicholas, and their dog.
The public facts in the raid are now well-known. Former Houston Police Department (HPD) officer Gerald Goines knowingly provided the court with false information to obtain the no-knock warrant used in the raid. The false information was that a non-existent informant controlled by Goines made a heroin purchase at the Harding Street residence, justifying the search. That false information was corroborated by a second HPD officer, Steven Bryant.
Federal Charges Against HPD Narcotics Cops
An ensuing investigation of the Harding Street Raid led to state and federal charges being lodged against Goines and Bryant, including two capital murder charges against Goines. That investigation expanded from the Harding Street Raid to the HPD’s infamous Narcotics Division’s Squad 15. Squad 15 is a narcotics investigative unit that has accumulated a reputation as a “criminal organization” that terrorized city residents for years, mostly in communities of color, with perjured no-knock raid warrants and unfounded search warrants.
Two federal lawsuits filed January 2021 by the families of Tuttle and Rhogena charged that former HPD Chief Art Acevedo and “leaders of the City Houston” not only tolerated but encouraged the lawless activities of Squad 15. The lawsuits listed the following seven areas of criminal activity engaged in by the squad:
- Obtaining a long list of search warrants through perjury;
- False statements submitted to cover up the fraudulent warrants;
- A sexual relationship between an informant and HPD officer;
- Improper payments made to informants;
- Illegal and unconstitutional invasions of homes;
- A long list of unlawful arrests and excessive force used against city residents; and, finally,
- The murder of Tuttle and Nicholas.
Before the lawsuits were filed, it had become evident to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and HPD that there would be continuing legal fallout from the Harding Street Raid. Chief Acevedo resigned and took a job as Miami’s police chief, where he was quickly forced to resign there because of scandals under his leadership of that department.
HPD Chief Acevedo During Wave of Corruption Scandals
Before he departed to Miami, Acevedo released the results of an internal departmental audit that found that the entire HPD Narcotics Department was rife with corruption, misconduct and lack of oversight.
“The document shows auditors reviewed the division’s policies related to warrant services, operations planning, handling of confidential informants, improper handling of evidence, and found a half-dozen standard operating procedures “lacked sufficient supervisory oversight.
‘They also found hundreds of “administrative” errors, including unauthorized informant payments; sloppy investigations; cases without tactical plans or with missing documentation. They found dozens of cases which supervisors did not appear to have reviewed, and others where officers submitted evidence late, or failed to fill out basic offense reports properly, as well as discrepancies in warrants, evidence and expenses.”
District Attorney Kim Ogg followed suit by charging a laundry list of current and former narcotics officers with a range of felonies, from lying about overtime to illegal drug purchases.
These kinds of “dirty cop” cases always present residual but significant legal problems for the state’s courts of appeal.
For example, there was the Houston Police Department’s Crime Lab Division scandal exposed in 2012 when it was discovered that lab technician Jonathan Salvador had falsified hundreds of forensic science reports that led to erroneous criminal convictions.
In what has become known as the “Salvador cases,” the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held in Ex parte Coty that in all of these cases, the burden rest with the State to prove that the forensic evidence it used to convict was not false, but held that the burden of proving that the false forensic evidence was material to a defendant’s guilt or innocence rested with the defendant.
The Court of Criminal Appeals, however, held there would be an inference of falsity in the Salvador-type cases if the defendant could demonstrate five critical factors:
- The technician in question was a state actor;
- The technician committed multiple instances of intentional misconduct in another case or cases;
- The technician was the same technician that worked on the applicant’s case;
- The misconduct was the type of misconduct that would have affected the evidence in the applicant’s case; and
- The technician handled and processed the evidence in the applicant’s case within roughly the same period of time as the other misconduct.
The Court of Criminal Appeals was recently forced to apply the Coty rule to a Goines case involving police misconduct similar to the ‘Salvador cases.'”
In its January 26, 2022 decision, Ex Parte Matthews, the appeals court concluded:
“We conclude that it is appropriate to extend Coty, at least to a situation in which a police officer has demonstrably lied in multiple instances to convict individuals of drug-related offenses. Thus, Applicant has pled facts which, if true, may very well entitle him to relief … We remand the cause to the convicting court to make a preliminary determination whether all five Coty requirements have been established by evidence… In particular, the convicting court should look to whether it has been shown that Goines provided false information in a search warrant affidavit in 2019—and thus, that he committed repeated acts of misconduct in pursuit of illicit-drug investigations … The convicting court should also determine whether the alleged act of misconduct in this case occurred ‘within roughly the same period of time as the other misconduct.’ A stipulation of these facts alone will not suffice…”
Police Oversight, Accountability Necessary
These are the collateral consequences of police misconduct and the supervisors who protect and encourage such misconduct, as was done in the Goines case. These bad actors and their supervisors who turned a blind eye to their criminal misconduct should be held accountable.