Mayoral candidate Bill King released the following on Monday:
In the wake of the tragic events of January 28 that left two people dead and five police officers seriously injured, Houstonians are entitled to a thorough, independent investigation of what happened to ensure it never happens again. Furthermore, as a community we should decide if these types of raids are something HPD should be doing.
Last week, the media uncovered information that an officer lied on the affidavit that led to the no-knock warrant and raid. Immediately, I called for an independent investigation of the incident by the FBI or Texas Rangers. Other Houstonians, including former HPD Chief McClelland, have also asked for an independent investigation. Turner and Acevedo have refused to do so.
In most cases, I would be prepared to allow HPD to investigate this type of case. But not under these circumstances. Just two days after the raid, Acevedo released the affidavit with the fraudulent information in an attempt to defend the department’s actions and for its “commitment to transparency.”
Of course, releasing an affidavit on its own is hardly transparent. But what’s worse is Acevedo did not inform the public that information in the affidavit was fabricated until the media discovered court documents that showed it was. I do not believe that Acevedo knew at the time he released the affidavit that it was false. But his failure to correct the record immediately upon discovering that it had been irrevocably compromised HPD’s credibility on this investigation. The only way to assure the public that the truth is going to be told about what happened that tragic afternoon is through an independent investigation.
But there is another question raised by this incident. Should HPD be using no-knock warrants at all, and if so, under what circumstances?
Under earlier English common law and U.S. Supreme Court precedent, any officer serving a warrant was required to announce and identify himself before entering a person’s home (the so-called “knock-and-announce rule). However, many courts began to chip away at the knock-and-announce rule and in 1995, the Supreme Court in Wilson v. Arkansas created a specific exception in circumstances where the officers had a reasonable belief that evidence might be destroyed.
With the advent of the War on Drugs and more liberal court restrictions, the number of no-knock warrants has skyrocketed over the last four decades. One study estimated that the number nationwide went from 3,000 in 1981 to 50,000 in 2005. But more recently, the practice has come under increasing criticism as scores of such raids have gone terribly wrong like HPD’s January 28 raid did. Many police departments have either totally banned or severely restricted the practice.
One of the best articles I found examining these types of raids was this 2017 New York Times article. The article chronicles several of the nightmarish stories related to no-knock raids, including a stun grenade landing in a baby crib. It also quotes a former chair of the National Tactical Officers Association as saying the technique is vastly overused and should be restricted to only the most extreme circumstances. He specifically opined that they should not be used in narcotics cases, which was the basis for HPD’s January 28 raid.
All of this begs the question of what policies HPD has in place regarding such raids. From what we have seen so far, whatever procedures exist appear to be pretty shoddy.
One of the things about the January 28 warrant that caught my eye is that a municipal court judge issued it. It’s important to note that unlike county judges or justices of the peace who are independently elected, municipal judges are appointed by the mayor who, of course, also oversees HPD. Given the unique and heightened circumstances surrounding these warrants, I believe no-knock warrants should only be brought before a judge independent of the City.
I can think of a dozen other safeguards like requiring two officer affidavits, higher supervision approval and a stringent set of guidelines/check list for the issuance of no-knock warrants.
I am not prepared to leave this important question up to HPD. The lives and well-being of Houstonians as well as our officers are affected by HPD’s policies on this very dangerous tactic. I think the whole community should be involved in reviewing this practice. To accomplish that, the mayor should appoint a task force, a majority of which would be Houstonians not associated with law enforcement, to investigate HPD’s practices regarding no-knock warrants and make recommendations about their use in the future.
There is a tendency in this town for folks to get all riled up when we are confronted with tragedies like this. There is a lot of arm-waving, shouting and promises to fix the problem. But, generally, all that results in few real changes. Let’s not do that this time. Let’s ensure that the tragedy of January 28 is not repeated and learn from our mistakes with a clear-eyed, community-based examination of this practice that results in real reform.
I seriously doubt that Turner will ask the FBI or Texas Rangers to investigate the incident or that he will appoint a citizens’ task force examine the wisdom of this tactic. If you would like a mayor that cares more about common-sense solutions to problems than endless self-promotion and image management, please join my campaign. You can sign up to endorse me, volunteer, contribute, be a pay-to-play petition gatherer, or get a yard sign or a bump sticker at our website, BillforHouston.com.
Let’s get some common sense installed at City Hall!
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