Audit criticizes Houston police unit tied to fatal drug raid
HOUSTON (AP) — An audit of a Houston Police Department narcotics unit that’s been under scrutiny following a deadly 2019 drug raid found that officers made hundreds of errors in cases, often weren’t thorough in their investigations, lacked supervision and overpaid informants for the seizure of minuscule amounts of drugs.
A group of state lawmakers who had been fighting for months for the audit’s release criticized the report, calling it a “scam” for not detailing the systematic problems within the unit and the police department that ultimately led to the January 2019 drug raid in which Dennis Tuttle, 59, and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, 58, were killed.
“This was not a single rogue officer. This was not even a single rogue unit. This was an entire rogue division. This is an entire branch of the Houston police department that just did whatever it felt like doing,” state Rep. Gene Wu said Friday.
A Houston police spokesman said Chief Art Acevedo and the department were not expected to comment on the audit.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Thursday the audit looked at the narcotics unit with a “very critical eye” and Houston police have since “stepped up and already made a number of revisions.”
The 66-page audit reviewed the work of two former members of the narcotics unit — Gerald Goines and Steven Bryant —along with the work of squads within the unit. Goines and Bryant have previously been charged in state and federal court in the case, including two counts of felony murder filed in state court against Goines for the deaths of the couple.
The audit found more than 400 errors in cases from the three years leading up to the raid that were handled by Goines and Bryant.
Some of the errors the audit tied to Goines included not getting approval for informant payments, missing documentation regarding the payment of informants and overpaying informants.
Goines’ use of informants has been one of the key issues that’s been investigated in the deadly raid.
Prosecutors had previously accused Goines, 55, of lying to obtain the warrant to search the home of Tuttle and his wife by claiming that a confidential informant had bought heroin there. Goines later said there was no informant and that he had bought the drugs himself, they allege. Five officers, including Goines, were injured in the raid.
Nicole DeBorde, Goines’ attorney, said Friday she couldn’t immediately comment as she was still reviewing the audit.
The audit also reviewed the work of officers in four squads within the narcotics unit and found they had made over 700 errors in cases from the two years leading up to the raid.
One squad was cited for not being thorough in their investigations as officers “failed to document pertinent details in the offense report, such as who was present, location of the evidence, and other information that would aid the prosecution.”
Some officers took up to a year to turn in completed reports. Officers and supervisors normally have 15 days to complete case paperwork and turn it in, according to the audit.
Acevedo had declined to release the audit, arguing it would harm an ongoing investigation by prosecutors.
But after Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg on Wednesday announced new charges against Goines, Bryant and four other former officers, Houston released the audit on its Twitter page later that evening.
In the weeks since the killing of George Floyd, a former Houston resident who died in May while being arrested by a Minneapolis police officer, Acevedo has given interviews and talked to protesters about being committed to police transparency and accountability. But he’s been criticized for not releasing the audit sooner and for not releasing body camera footage from six deadly Houston police shootings that took place within a five week period in April and May.
Wu, D-Houston, said he and other lawmakers planned to craft legislation to ensure the deaths of Tuttle and Nicholas “mean something. We want there to be true reform from this.”
The raid “did not happen in a vacuum. That kind of conduct can only happen when there is an environment, a long standing and pervasive custom and practice of illegal conduct that is known by and condoned by the highest levels of the department,” said Boyd Smith, an attorney representing Tuttle’s family.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70