Internal Investigation Shows The Houston PD's Narcotics Units Was An Unsupervised Mess
from the enforcing-the-law-by-breaking-most-of-it dept
The Houston PD decided to take a look at itself after a botched drug raid ended with two people killed by officers. The raid was predicated on pure bullshit. Officer Gerald Goines turned two Houston residents into dangerous drug traffickers by using a nonexistent confidential informant, drugs Goines had stashed in his squad car, and a narrative unsupported by any actual facts. Claims of heroin trafficking by a violent drug dealer were undercut by the raid itself, which turned up no heroin or the gun the (fake) informant claimed he saw.
Officer Goines is now former officer Goines. He’s facing multiple state and federal charges, including two counts of felony murder. This sort of thing doesn’t just happen. It’s not an anomaly formed in a pristine environment. The almost-nonexistent oversight of the Houston PD’s drug warriors led directly to Goines’ deadly concoctions. An internal review of the drug unit by the Houston PD shows officers operated with indifference, carelessness, and negligence. Officer Goines may have been the worst of the 175 officers, but he was far from the only one abusing the system to engage in unsupervised drug warrior freelancing. (via Grits For Breakfast)
The report’s authors wrote that while reviewing Goines and Bryant’s casework from 2016 to 2019, they found 404 errors and a “high level of administrative errors and overall lack of attention to detail” while completing required paperwork.
Auditors found that in the 84 casefiles they reviewed, Goines submitted evidence late 48 percent of the time (40 times) and made unauthorized informant payments 18 times. A quarter of the cases he filed — 21 — did not have tactical plans, the critical documents that officers create showing how they plan to carry out a search warrant raid.
Four times, investigators found cases with no search warrant on file. Three cases included problems where there was inadequate documentation about the case’s informant. Two dozen cases lacked case review sheets. Auditors found discrepancies in Goines’ expenses 23 times. In two cases, there were discrepancies in evidence, and another two cases, evidence submission slips were missing.
The full report [PDF] breaks this down by officer. It appears Officers Goines and Bryant had developed a working relationship that made bending/breaking rules easier. When working together, they relied heavily on “controlled buys.” This made it easier to obtain cash from supervisors who seemed unwilling to ask questions — even when the officers failed to submit paperwork or justify expenditures. In some cases, it appears payments to CIs were broken up into smaller chunks to avoid mandated supervisory reviews. In other cases, Goines and Bryant did not get approval for payments or paid well above the going rate for information leading to very small drug busts.
The sloppiness of officers’ work was indirectly encouraged by the indifference of their supervisors.
The audit also found “overwhelmingly” the need to improve administrative procedures, specifically, supervisory review of case files and case tracking. About 25 percent of the time, supervisors failed to sign case file review sheets, and auditors found many cases were turned in six months to a year late — far longer than the 10 working days allotted by policy.
And the problems go all the way to the top. Police Chief Art Acevedo has been holding onto this report for weeks, refusing to allow the public to see just how corrupt and unrestrained his narcotics division is. Acevedo finally released the report (via Twitter) after the Houston Chronicle released a series of articles discussing the department’s lack of transparency. This unconventional release may have been additionally prompted by another set of criminal charges being brought against police officers by the Houston DA.
Prosecutors probing a Houston police narcotics unit announced charges against six former officers tied to a fatal 2019 drug raid. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg accused the former officers of lying on police reports and other documents as part of a scheme to enrich themselves.
Besides the new charges Goines and Bryant face, Ogg announced charges against former HPD Lt. Robert Gonzales, Sgts. Clemente Reyna and Thomas Wood and Goines’ old partner.
It appears several officers and supervisors in the Houston Police Department feel this isn’t going to end well for them. They’re getting out before the department gets to them.
In the months after the raid, Goines retired from HPD. Bryant also retired, along with Goines’ other former partner, Hodgie Armstrong. Three supervisors — Sgt. Clemente Reyna, Sgt. Tommy Woods and Lt. Robert Gonzales also retired. Former Narcotics Commander Paul Follis was transferred to a different post, the Hobby Airport Division.
There’s some good news at the end of all of this. Some reforms are now in place to reduce the likelihood of this sort of tragedy repeating itself. A supervisor is now required to be on the scene during warrant deployment. No-knock warrants have to be approved by the chief himself (or his “designee”). Officers can no longer use municipal court judges for warrant approval. And, finally, body cameras are mandatory for all drug warrant service. They must be activated before officers leave their vehicles and cannot be shut off until the scene and all suspects are secured. All evidence collected must be logged and photographed. All interactions with informants must be documented and, more importantly, all informants will be subject to periodic background checks and random face-to-face interviews with PD supervisors.
This may fix some things going forward. But a more permanent solution would be to dismantle the current unit and reform it using other officers — officers who’ve proven worthy of trust. Officers who’ve been in a system this devoid of oversight and accountability are pretty much ruined. They need to be given the shortest leash and the least amount of responsibility until they’ve proven they can handle more. Without a major overhaul, the next horrendous abuse of power is still an inevitability.