False 911 calls have become the subject of news stories throughout the country in recent years. These unnecessary calls have led to barbeques being ruined, pool parties being disbanded, and a litany of individual of embarrassments.
Inconvenience is not the only issue with false 911 calls. When police officers follow through with these calls in a strict law enforcement manner, people can lose their lives.
Harding Street Scandal Reaches Federal Proportions
Lost lives are exactly what happened at the Harding Street drug raid earlier this year in Houston. What started as false accusations to law enforcement has become a huge scandal for the Houston Police Department (HPD).
The Houston officers involved in this response currently face state charges.
One is charged with two counts of felony murder, while the other is accused of tampering with government documents. On top of state scrutiny, the 911 caller and multiple HPD officers now face federal charges as well.
Federal criminal charges are especially serious because they usually involve federal agencies, like the one that oversees the 911 service, the Federal Communications Commission(or FCC).
Some of the federal crimes involved in this raid include:
- Civil rights violations
- False information and threats
- Falsification of records
Let’s take a closer look…
Civil Rights Violations
Residents of the United States enjoy inalienable individual and property rights. We have the right to vote. We have the right to free speech and freedom of the press. These rights also protect us from government actions such as unlawful search and seizure.
When a Police Officer Violates Someone’s Civil Rights
When police officers or other governmental agents violate those rights, they can be charged with a number of civil rights violations, including:
- Conspiracy Against Rights
- Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law
- Damage to Religious Property
- Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances
- Criminal Interference With Right to Fair Housing
Hate Crime Acts
The victims in the Houston police raid were killed in what is known as a “no-knock raid.” At the time, the officers signed affidavits claiming that they had enough evidence to justify this type of raid.
An informant allegedly informed the officers that they had bought heroin at the house. This alleged drug deal, along with the response to the 911 call, allowed officers to secure a proper search warrant granting them legal authority to enter the house in question.
Houston Police Raided Based on False and Fabricated Information
Investigators later discovered that when officers responded to the 911 call, they found no evidence of serious criminal activity. A search turned up small amounts of marijuana and cocaine, but no heroin or crack as the caller alleged.
Without that evidence, the officers were not justified in entering the home. Investigations have since revealed that the alleged drug deal and 911 call contained false or fabricated information.
This intentional fabrication and falsification is a direct violation of the victims’ rights. Here’s how it happened.
First, a Neighbor’s False Information and Threats
The officers are not the only people charged with federal crimes. The victims’ next-door neighbor is now facing charges as well. Months earlier, the woman falsely called 911 on her neighbors.
In this instance the neighbor gave many pieces of false information and threats which later led to the officers’ raid.
During the 911 call, the woman told officers that her daughter was inside the victims’ home and that the victims were drug dealers in possession of possessed crack, heroin, and machine guns.
This “tip” led officers to the Harding Street home. The following day another bust led to four officers to being shot and to the death of two other victims.
The neighbor now faces up to five years behind bars if she is convicted.
Then, Falsification of Records to Make the Raid Fit
In order to forcefully enter someone’s home, law enforcement must have hard evidence (and documentation of it). Lying or fabricating information on these records is a federal crime.
Falsifying records is what ultimately took place the day before the second (and final) Harding Street raid. The Houston police who responded to the 911 call told authorities that an alleged drug deal had gone down at the house earlier.
The information about the reported drug deal came from an informant. But subsequent inquiry revealed that there was no informant.
This case is ongoing.
Investigators from the FBI are looking closely into dozens of similar situations for guidance. They are also reviewing 14,000-plus cases previously handled by the charged officers.
As this case unfolds, we’ll see what sort of penalties these officers will face.
Federal Crimes Are Serious Business
This case is a reminder that regardless of whether you are a police officer, an emergency responder, or just an average citizen, no one is above the law. Violating the law, even in an attempt to “crack down” on crime, may result in many years behind bars.
If you are facing similar federal charges, don’t do it alone. Reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney so that you can develop your best possible defense. Otherwise, anticipate a long time spent behind bars.