The state of play in Houston: No-knock raids are inherently dangerous. So are other types of raids staged in the middle of the night.
In 2019, a married couple in Houston died in a late afternoon no-knock raid. This morning, the Washington Post's Marisa Iati gave this account of what happened:
IATI (9/8/20): On Jan. 28, 2019, Houston police were executing a no-knock warrant for heroin trafficking when they shot and killed Rhogena Nicholas, 58, and her 59-year-old husband, Dennis Tuttle, a disabled Navy veteran—both White—at the Houston couple’s home.Please note: In her first paragraph, Iati refers to a "no-knock warrant." She then quotes police saying they announced themselves. The apparent confusion goes unexplained.
About 4:30 p.m., roughly 12 narcotics officers and about six patrol officers, some of them in uniform, broke down the door while announcing themselves, police said.
A pit bull charged at the first officer inside, who shot and killed the dog, according to police. Tuttle came from the back of the house and shot the officer in the shoulder, causing him to collapse on the living room sofa, police said. Three other officers were also shot by Tuttle, according to Chief Art Acevedo’s statements to reporters.
Nicholas reached for the officer’s gun, according to police. Police told The Post that seven officers opened fire, striking and killing her and Tuttle.
The officers had secured the warrant asserting that there was heroin trafficking at the home, but police said they found no heroin.
In the following months, the official narrative unraveled: An internal police investigation found that an informant referenced in the search warrant said he had never bought drugs at the home.
Acevedo accused the officer who led the raid of lying to justify it.
The officer was charged with two counts of murder, while he and another officer were charged with tampering with government records for allegedly falsifying documents related to the raid, the Harris County Prosecutor’s Office said in statements. Both officers have pleaded not guilty, and the cases are ongoing.
“To this day, the chief of police hasn’t apologized,” John Nicholas said. “They still say there was a reason to be there, but nobody knows that reason.”
That said, was there a good reason for this late afternoon no-knock raid? Was there any serious reason for the raid at all?
We have no way of knowing.
Were Nicholas and Tuttle actually engaged in heroin trafficking? Everything is possible! That said, Iati's account sounds gruesome:
According to Iati, "an informant referenced in the search warrant [has now] said he had never bought drugs at the home." Also, Chief Acevedo "has accused the officer who led the raid of lying to justify it."
According to Iati, a second officer has been "charged with tampering with government records for allegedly falsifying documents related to the raid." Also, "the officer who led the raid" has been charged with two counts of murder!
Acevedo still says there was a good reason for the raid, but he hasn't said what it was, nor has he apologized. As Iati told the story, it sounds like a mess all around.
No-knock raids are inherently dangerous. Stating the obvious, the people being raided may open fire on unannounced police whether they were ever engaged in criminal conduct or not.
That's what happened in this case. That also happened one year later in the post-midnight raid in which Breonna Taylor was killed.
To this day, there's no public evidence that Tuttle and Nicholas were engaged in criminal activity when their home was raided. It's always possible that they were. It's also entirely possible that they weren't.
That said, a recent Associated Press report makes it sound like this was a much bigger mess than Iati's account suggested. On July 31 of this year, NBC News published an AP report about new developments in the case.
New indictments had been handed down. In the process, the case had become much more gruesome:
FIELDSTADT (7/31/20): A grand jury on Thursday indicted six former Houston police officers with a total of 17 counts for their roles in a botched January 2019 drug raid that left a couple dead.Oof. According to the NBC/AP report, six former officers have been formally charged with crimes. Iati's account seemed to suggest that the number was two.
The Jan. 28, 2019, raid came under scrutiny after police alleged then-officer Gerald Goines, who was shot during the raid, lied in a search warrant that a confidential informant had bought heroin at the home. Goines later acknowledged there was no informant and that he bought the drugs himself, authorities said.
Also, it sounds like the "informant referenced in the search warrant [who has now] said he had never bought drugs at the home" was actually Officer Goines himself! (Or something. We have no idea.) Horribly, that may be what Iati meant when she said that Chief Acevedo "has accused the officer who led the raid of lying to justify it."
(Repeat: we now have no idea what Iati, her two co-writers and her editors actually meant.)
That said, can you believe a freaking thing you read in the Washington Post? We can't answer your question!
We aren't experts on this case, which has generated virtually no national discussion in the 20 months since it occurred. (Obvious reason: Both people shot and killed in this instance were "white.") But it sounds like, for whatever reason, the extent of the alleged misconduct goes well beyond the account which appeared in this morning's Post.
Oof! NBC also included this gruesome information in its version of the AP report:
FIELDSTADT: Three former supervisors and a former senior police officer were also indicted on felony charges Thursday [in addition to Goines and Bryant].Oof! At present, these are just allegations, of course.
"The charges stem from allegations that include using false information to get judges to sign search warrants; falsifying time sheets, putting false information in offense reports and falsifying government documents to steal," according to a statement released by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg's office Friday.
The district attorney's Friday statement said that hundreds of defendants arrested by Goines have been notified that there may be problems with their convictions. The defendants have been provided court-appointed lawyers.
The office has already found that two brothers convicted in a case in which Goines was the sole witness were "actually innocent of the charges."
As noted, the seventeen charges against the six officers were announced in late July. More than five weeks have passed since that time. But based upon what she wrote today, Iati doesn't seem to have been aware of these new indictments. She seems to have described the state of play as it existed before those new charges were filed.
Everybody makes mistakes. With respect to this particular case, Iati and the Washington Post seem to have made some dillies. That said, the larger problem lies in the overt propaganda this morning's report was selling.
At present, the mainstream press is selling a particular story about the topic of police shootings. We're not sure we've seen such a widespread journalistic con since the mainstream press spent twenty months inventing stories to make you believe that the deeply reviled Candidate Gore was the world's biggest liar, just like Bill Clinton, his deeply reviled boss.
At present, the mainstream press is selling a particular story about police shootings. In our view, Iati's report was selling that preferred tribal story hard.
We plan to tell you what we mean as the week progresses.
This is all anthropology, of course. By now, it's much too late to expect some sort of good outcome!