Friday, February 8, 2019

Anatomy of a botched drug raid

Last month five officers from the Houston Police Department were injured - four were shot - in a drug raid gone incredibly wrong. At the time we were barraged with statements from HPD that the police raided the house, shot the dogs and killed the residents, Donald Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, because a confidential informant told them the couple had heroin and guns in the house.

Joe Gamaldi, the head of the local police union, claimed the police had targets on their backs and that he was sick and tired of people claiming the police were the bad guys. He even threatened to keep tabs on those who criticized the police. Woo-hoo! Over here, Joe!

The local media - never ones to look too deeply into any story involving the police - ate it up. The local media never once questioned the reliability of the informant or the rationale behind a "dynamic" entry.

But there was a problem. There was no heroin in the house. There was a small amount of marijuana and cocaine. There were rifles and shotguns, but there was no evidence that they were obtained illegally.

Neighbors and relatives told anyone who would listen that neither Mr. Tuttle nor Ms. Nicholas were involved in the drug trade. Neither had any convictions for drug activity. Neither had any convictions for violent behavior.

Police Chief Art Acevedo (doing his best to play a prevent defense) told the media that police had received a tip from an anonymous called that there were guns and heroin inside the house. Police then sent their informant into the house to get some heroin. They claim he came out with the drug and a tale the house was a veritable Wal-Mart of heroin.

If anyone knows how this shit works in Houston, it should come as no surprise that the officers went to a judge in the municipal courthouse (where the primary business of the day is traffic court) to find a judge who would sign the warrant without asking any pesky questions about probable cause or the need for a "no-knock" warrant. Needless to say, they found a very pliant judge on Lubbock Street.

Since the jump-out boys were from narcotics, no one was wearing bodycams at the time of the raid. I get it. The last thing the police want the public to see is just how much of a shit show these raids turn into.

And now an unnamed officer involved in the raid has been relieved of duty pending an investigation into the botched raid.

For those of y'all keeping score on this, the search warrant said the police believed that heroin and handguns would be found in the house. Neither were.

If anyone out there has any delusion that the police follow a rigid procedure in obtaining evidence, drafting a warrant application and discussing with a judge why the warrant needs to be served, you may now put your glasses back on and witness just how this process works.

In reality the warrant applications filed by the police - and prosecutors - are fill-in-the-blank cookie-cutter forms where the affiant cuts and pastes the basis of his suspicion. This suspicion can rarely be backed up by anything resembling articulable facts. These affidavits are presented to judges who preside over traffic courts who sign them without raising any questions.

The result is what happened in Houston last month. This should be Exhibit A in a lesson as to why the war on drugs has been an abject failure.

See also:

Blakinger, Keri, et al. "Houston police officer connected to deadly raid, shootout relieved of duty," Houston Chronicle (2/8/2019)

Reigstad, Leif, "A no-knock raid in Houston led to deaths and police injuries. Should police rethink the process?" Texas Monthly (2/12019)

Blakinger, Keri and Stephen Tucker Paulson, "Police identify powder recovered in deadly drug raid" Houston Chronicle 2/2/2019)

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