Friday, March 18, 2016

Houston Police Department “robbery stings” result in five deaths since September

Yesterday evening, officers with the Houston Police department shot and killed two people and injured two others after the officers confronted five armed robbery suspects following a hold-up at a furniture store. The officers had been following the suspects for the prior 24 hours.

Last night’s shooting resembles a pattern in Houston that I have noticed since I began following officer-involved shootings in Texas after a new reporting law took effect in September: HPD officers trail armed robbery suspects or stake out a location they believe will be robbed; officers confront the suspects as they commit the robbery; gunfire erupts; officers shoot and kill or injure the robbery suspects. In reports to the Attorney General, the operations are referred to as “robbery sting[s].” Including last night’s shooting, there have been four robbery stings since September involving HPD, which have resulted in five people killed and five people injured. Of the incidents that have been reported to the Attorney General, all the people killed or injured have been Black men ages 25 or under. One person injured was sixteen.

In October, one robbery suspect was killed and another injured after officers confronted suspects who were trying to rob a cash advance business. Also in October, two robbery suspects were killed and another injured after officers confronted suspects who were trying to rob a pawnshop. And in February, a 16-year-old was injured after officers confronted suspects who had robbed a meat market. News reports from two of the incidents indicated that officers involved were undercover or in plainclothes.

Not only have these sting operations resulted in the injuries and deaths of suspects and risked the lives of the officers involved, but they also risk the lives of innocent bystanders, as they take place in shopping malls, parking lots, and other public places, and occur in broad daylight. Last night’s shooting was at 6:45 PM, one incident took place at 10:10 AM, another at 2:30 PM, and another at 5 PM.  In the most recent incident, bullets reportedly hit a nearby Denny’s.

It seems that plainclothes police officers confronting armed robbery suspects during the day and in public places is an incredibly dangerous way to arrest the suspects. I haven’t seen these kinds of incidents occur with other departments, so I’d be curious to know how other law enforcement agencies handle similar arrests without endangering so many lives.


Anonymous said...

Guess they shouldn't be committing armed robberies. The police didn't cause them to go out with guns and commit crimes. Every single one of the "victims" made a choice to not drop his weapon when ordered to do so. You'd have trouble finding a Houston citizen that cares that they got shot.

Anonymous said...

Why are police shootings "officer-involved" here? When I hear a newsreader say it all I can think of is journalistic badge kissing.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@6:16, nobody's asking you to feel sympathy for the victims. She's asking you to consider the wisdom of engaging in shootouts in broad daylight in public places. Somebody in the Denny's gets hit with a stray bullet and people in Houston might consider the strategy in a whole different light.

@8:12, what phrase would you prefer? "Officer-involved" is the phrase used in the legislation that created the dataset Amanda's drawing from - I can't speak for her, but I'm guessing that's the reason for the word choice.

From Dallas said...

Good report. Thanks GFB.

Anonymous said...

So the officers are just supposed to let armed robbers walk away in the hope that they can be captured before they rob someone else? Have you considered how many people in Texas are carrying firearms these days who might be inclined to intervene in these robberies if the officers didn't? I'm sorry, Grits, but you've reached a new level of absurdity here. I suspect most people agree with 6:16 above here. Give the officers more ammo.

Miketrials said...


Your (repeated) comments are foolish and thoughtless, which your problem, and fail to engage Grits, making it ours as well. Not even I, an unreformed liberal and criminal defense attorney for three decades, believe the only alternative is to let robbers "walk away" (your phrase). Plus, if the robbers are being followed without their knowledge, the police could wait, as even in Texas there are ways to engage armed robbers without placing the public at risk.
While I hate to credit the despicable ATF stash house sting program, it does takedowns of armed suspects utilizing as locations empty buildings, storage facilities, and vehicles with ignition kill switches. Few if any result in shootouts, let alone deaths.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks Mike, saved me the trouble.

Anonymous said...

Grits, the officer involved shooting have been all black! No sympathy here, that just confirms again that blacks are criminals. Blacks commit more crimes, period. Who gives a sheet if I'm called racist for the truth! If a white person were commuting armed robbery the white would receive the same. Its obvious that the incarcerated can not be rehabilitated when they are released they commit the same crimes so, it is cheaper on the taxpayer just to stop the $ burn before it starts. Bang.

Anonymous said...

The ATF stings were entrapment. Fairly easy to control the environment when you have a fairy tale script to work from.

It's not clear what's going down in Houston or what is meant by "robbery sting". If they are acting from an informant or some other form of intelligence it seems they would have to wait for an actual crime to be committed unless they have enough information for a conspiracy charge.

Could be just good old fashion police work, Stake out a subject and catch them in the act. The robberies were going to happen weather the cops were there or not. Yes, it does seem incredibly dangerous, but It's not clear there are other options.

In the long run the dead guys are not going to rob anyone again. Those arrested wont be repeating for a while anyway. Clearly increases public safety overall if this is the case.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Apparently you give a "sheet," 10:41, since you're too cowardly to attach your name to your comments. Punk.

@11:23, if any of your "could be" assumptions go the other way, it implies opposite conclusions. If you read the underlying article they'd been tracking these guys all day. Presumably they could continue following them to a safer spot instead of engaging in a shootout outside the Denny's. Looking forward to video emerging to see if it backs up officers' version of events.

Anonymous said...

So someone is complaining because officers investigating serial robbers well enough to catch them in the act? Suspecting someone who previously got away will not pass a basic probable cause or reasonable suspicion test. I would be very interested in hearing how the complainers would propose to handle armed robbers. And also whether they have any real experience with law enforcement. The reality is most officer involved shootings involve someone who thinks he can Rambo his way out of an arrest. Not all but most. The fact that suspects frequently do not lay down their arms and comply should make it all the more clear that officers have to make life and death decisions in a split second. In my opinion their decisions should only be judged from their position at the time. I think jurors know that which is why, even when prosecuted, most officers are acquitted. We can't ask an officer to basically work in a combat setting but make sure they analyze every move as if they are appellate court judges with months to make a decision. And if you are wondering, no I am not a cop, have never been one, and don't have one in my family. Just tired of criminals going out merrily victimizing hard working innocent citizens, refusing to drop their guns when confronted by police, and then crying foul when they get shoot. And then their families sure the police department. I saw a story recently where an elderly woman shot a teen breaking into her house at night. His family was complaining because he was shot in the back and "didn't deserve to die like this." Please. If you break into someone's house, or commit an armed robbery, you assume the risk on my opinion. No way an elderly woman can wait to see if you decide to turn around and go after her again.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@1:03, see Miketrials discussion above on ATF stings regarding alternative ways to handle it.

Also, there are many reasons police are seldom convicted for wrongful shootings. Juror sympathy is one, but there are others.

Finally, American police do not work in a "combat setting." For the record, they're FAR less likely to be killed on the job than the guy who collects your garbage.

Anonymous said...

I agree 1:03, but when citizens are being attacked and have to make that same split second decision to defend themselves they are not judged from the same position they are charged with a felony, no questions asked.

Anonymous said...

Trump for PRESIDENT.

Anonymous said...

Grits at 12:33 - Why are you being so defensive here? I've never seen you react that way. Name calling isn't really your style is it? The guy/gal has a valid point. Look at the statistics. He/She is right on there. BTW, most people don't post their real names on here do they - regardless of there opinion. You don't post with your name on here either.

Anonymous at 5:55 - You are right on!!!!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@6:45, usually I just delete racist comments ("that just confirms again that blacks are criminals"). If I'm not going to delete it, I'll call out the punk for expressing those views but being too cowardly to put their name on it. My name is all over this blog, I don't hide my name or hide behind anonymity when I take controversial stances.

Otherwise, this isn't a Donald Trump rally where the speaker gets to say "Mexicans are rapists" and the audience can sucker punch black folks at will. You want to leave racist comments here? I'll call you out as an asshole. My blog, my rules.

Anonymous said...

Kill more of the sumbitches!

George said...

@ Anonymous 6:16, 7:56, 10:41, 11:23, 6:45 and 10:27

Seems to me like yall would fit right in with the lynch mobs and cross burnings of our nations' past ( could we be returning to that type of behavior?). The ignorance that exudes from some of your comments is palpable and it's disgusting.

It's evident that, unlike most of Grits readers and commenters, you aren't really searching for truth and honesty but merely spouting off what your Daddy taught you or perhaps something you learned recently at a Trump rally. If you disagree then perhaps you have misspoken with some details of your comments. The fact of the matter is that on this particular blog, most of the bullsheet won't walk and you'll get called on it.

Scott, the person who owns this blog, has proven himself to be a searcher of truth and shines a spotlight on the ugly side of the criminal justice system. He has definitely earned my respect. For those of you who don't care for truth, honesty or can't handle the glare crawl your ass back under the rock that you crawled out from.

Or perhaps start your own blog so that people who have likeminded views can spout ignorance, hatred and vitriol to your hearts' content.

Anonymous said...

@11:23 Here

Scott and Miketials
The author inquired "how other law enforcement agencies handle similar arrests without endangering so many lives."
Pointing to the ATF "robery stings" as an "alternative ways to handle it." is truly non responsive.

The ATF "robbery stings" followed the classical definition of a sting operation. They used deception (undercover agents posing as drug couriers) and entrapment (a honeypot consisting of large amounts of drugs, cash or both). Pretty simple to place the bait in an abandoned warehouse. The difficulty, like any entrapment scheme, lays separating the wheat from the chaff.

In contrast, according to the author and supported by the linked articles "HPD officers trail armed robbery suspects or stake out a location they believe will be robbed; officers confront the suspects as they commit the robbery". Why they would use the term "robbery sting" to describe these operations is beyond me. Sting by my understanding involves deception of some sort. Perhaps there is more to the story.

Nonetheless, the act of armed robbery and armed robbers in general are incredibly dangerous and unpredictable. Standing back and allowing these to take place and then following the perpetrators to a less public area really does not appear to be a viable option.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Grits, you're a typical far-leftie. Instead of praising a good police operation, you condemn it. And when you add, "all the people killed or injured have been Black men ages 25 or under," you make it seem like HPD cops are racially motivated in their sting operations. You sound like a member of Black Lives Matter.

The people killed were armed robbers. They happened to be black. I'm sure HPD would operate the same way with a gang of white robbers.

As for putting the lives of other people in danger by confronting the robbers in shopping areas, I suppose you would prefer they let the robbers get in their car and then give chase. Yeah, and that's not going to endanger the lives of innocent people on the roadway. Oh yes, and the cops should make sure they don't catch up to the robbers until they get to a deserted area where they can have a shootout with no innocent bystanders nearby. Get real, Grits!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@11:23/10:49, call it what you will, but there have been a bunch of episodes where HPD was waiting for robbers when they came out of a location and gunned them down. In this case, one of the suspects pulled a gun on the person behind the counter but didn't use it, they left with nothing, and HPD shot five folks in the parking lot - no indication the perpetrators fired a shot. And it's not a one-off, it's a recurring tactic. As you say, maybe there's more to the story.

@BGB, for the record, Amanda Woog wrote this post, though I don't see anything wrong with what she said. Also, I'd rather be associated with Black Lives Matter than the racist garbage being spewed earlier in this string. All day, every day.

Other departments combat robbery without reverting to Jim-Crow-era-style shotgun squads, which is what this sounds like to me. As I said, I look forward to seeing if the video corroborates the initial story. Then we'll be able to better judge if this was a "good police operation" or something else. History teaches us that often the initial spin put on shootings by police to the press aren't entirely accurate when it comes to HPD.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Whoops, scuse me, four shot, not five. The fifth was arrested without injury, according to the Chron.

Anonymous said...

Black lives matter supporter Grits, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorhm are the same.
As for as truth goes you are wrong Grits integrity was lost when APD proved he was a lying paristite, it's all on film recorded while Grits lied through his teeth.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen anything racist on here from anyone. The statistics don't lie. There is a real problem with police using excessive force but that doesn't mean that statistically blacks ARE committing crimes in higher numbers. That doesn't make anyone racist. Why would you "rather be associated" with Black Lives Matter? The whole movement started on a lie about a police involved shooting in Ferguson Mo. They have used that as a way to try to justify the trouble they are causing in multiple locations. The violence at the Trump rallies has clearly been started by groups like Black lives matter and - stopping people from going to a rally, blocking roads. You might not like Trump but that doesn't mean others don't have the right to.

BarkGrowlBite said...

My bad, Grits. I did not read the credit at the end of the piece. However, I stand by what I said.

The same as you, I don't go for that racial crap either. It would have been appropriate to say that a disproportionate number of blacks commit crime, but to say "blacks are criminals" is ridiculous, nonsensical, stupid and - you got it right - blatantly racist.

Grits, I am sure the Houston cops were not waiting outside that business in order to gun the robbers down. They wanted to make sure these guys were really robbers before making an arrest. I'm sure they shouted at the robbers they were police and to give up, but once they pointed their guns at the cops they were righteously bought and paid for.

The fact that no shots were fired, that only one crook pointed a gun at the clerk and that they left with nothing is completely irrelevant. Another time, another place they might easily have shot someone. Experience tells us that sooner or later a serial robber will use his gun and snuff someone, and that is more likely when robbers act together with several crime partners.

Speaking of racial crap, you're a little guilty of using that your self. When you say, "Other departments combat robbery without reverting to Jim-Crow-era-style shotgun squads," you're doing the same thing Amanda Wong did - making it seem as though the Houston cops were racially motivated. You too sound like a member of Black Lives Matter.

In closing, I want to say that what those Houston officers did was to use good proactive police tactics. They stopped and caught a gang of armed robbers. The two who were killed died because they were dangerous criminals, not because they happened to be black. The same with the other robberies Ms. Wong alluded to. Thanks to HPD, store clerks are somewhat safer now.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Taufiq said...

Just saying....In all fairness I hope the cops/detectives are also following the white collar criminals as well for more than 24 hours without a warrant which is akin to GPS tracking because it brings about the same outcome.

Taufiq said...

Just saying....In all fairness I hope the cops/detectives are also following the white collar criminals as well for more than 24 hours without a warrant which is akin to GPS tracking because it brings about the same outcome.

Taufiq said...

Just saying....I hope the cops/detectives are surviving white collar criminals as well. I hope the cops had a warrant to follow someone for more than 24 hours....if not.....wouldn't that be like GPS tracking? Same outcome.

Anonymous said...

What the hell is a "Jim-Crow-era-style shotgun squad"?
Would that be the folks that confronted Sam Bass at Round Rock?
James Gang at Northfield?
Bonnie and Clyde at Bienville Parish?
Dillinger at the Biograph Theater?

About 20 years ago there was a string of driveway robberies in Fort Worth and surrounding cities. They were obviously ramping up in brutality. A few weeks into the spree they shot 3 people in about 30 minutes. All the victims survived - but at least 1 suffered severe, permanent injuries. A week after that they murdered a friend of mine as he returned from the store. If ever there was a group that warranted a shotgun squad, Jim Crow era or not, these kids certainly qualified.

By the way BGB:
Amanda simply pointed out facts she found from reviewing the data. She didn't make any implications about racial motivations.

Anonymous said...

The Comedian said...

"It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away everything he's got and everything he's ever gonna have" - William Munny (Clint Eastwood), Unforgiven (1992)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BGB, a law prof points out via email that, in most jurisdictions, police who knew a robbery was going to happen would arrest the robbers beforehand for "attempt" instead of waiting to have a shootout in the parking lot after. If this was a one-off that'd be one thing but it's happened a bunch of times and is clearly a tactical choice. And it's a choice that puts the public and officers in danger.

We'll have to agree to disagree that race is so taboo it can't even be mentioned, but I appreciate your willingness to call out actually racist comments. We'll also have to agree to disagree about Black Lives Matter. I simply don't share your disdain for them.

To the person who asked about shotgun squads, here's some history:,5162245&hl=en

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree with your professor friend, at least with regard to Texas. It's difficult to fathom how one could prove a defendant guilty of "attempted robbery" based on the facts in the article. Walking into a store with a gun is hardly attempted robbery. And once the gun is pulled out and stuck in the clerk's face, that's an assault. As soon as any demand for money is made, you've got a robbery.

None of this is a justification of the department's policy, but if you're gonna try to catch people in the act, it may as well be an act you can actually get a conviction for.

Look at Terry v. Ohio. Those guys were stopped and frisked because they were casing a jewelry store in preparation for a robbery (at least in the cop's opinion). Terry ended up convicted of carrying a concealed weapon -- not attempted robbery.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the links Scott, That was an interesting read.

What I'm trying to understand is the relationship of these so-called shotgun squads to the Jim Crow era?

Looks like an early term for a tactical team.

Seems to me the era of the shotgun squads ended with the wide spread adoption of the Daryl Gates model of policing. This seems more related to the New Jim Crow.

Anonymous said...

The police are not required to obtain a warrant to follow anyone.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Who said they were, 11:41?

@5:52, the relationship is that's the era when they were used. I hadn't thought about that history for years until this discussion, but when I first heard of them it was in that context. I'll certainly grant they were also used vs. white folks like Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, etc.. From my understanding they were more akin to some sort of ambush unit than a modern "tactical team."

@5:06, IANAL but my recollection of Terry is that the officer saw the guy allegedly casing the jewelry store, was suspicious, approached him, frisked him, and found the gun. SCOTUS said it was okay to frisk him without reasonable suspicion on grounds of officer safety. Here, they had prior suspicions and in fact followed them all day. We don't know the evidence that made them suspect these guys - an informant, etc. - and so can't judge from the story, but it looks to me like the cops here had a lot more information about what was going on than the officer in Terry v. Ohio.

To me, this "robbery sting" tactic raises significant questions. That doesn't mean I claim to know the answers, I don't. Maybe there was no other option. But again, this is not a one-off, it's a recurring tactic by the HPD robbery division. And the day some civilian or officer gets shot, I bet this blog won't be the only one asking them.

Regardless, IMO Amanda has performed a real service by identifying this pattern. Officer-involved shootings are treated by the press as a one-off, and without this sort of research and analysis, we couldn't even have this discussion about the normative questions.

Miketrials said...

A part of me wants to get all hopped up and call certain of the comments (in response to mine) what they really deserve. Instead, permit me to quote from one of them.

Barkgrowbite called the 5 shootings by the HPD "a good police operation."
Apparently the lobotomy was a success. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

'Nuff said.


Anonymous said...

"but it looks to me like the cops here had a lot more information about what was going on than the officer in Terry v. Ohio."

Sure, but my main point was that they ain't guilty of attempted robbery. In fact, I think it's impossible -- and if cops are gonna follow around a suspected robber, they may as well arrest him for a real offense and not one they can't prove.

"By its very nature, the crime of attempted aggravated robbery, even where such a conviction is supported by legally sufficient evidence, requires some mental gymnastics....However, it seems virtually impossible to attempt to commit an act wherein you are attempting to commit a theft and for that act to amount to more than mere preparation that tends to but fails to effect the commission of the offense intended."

Adekeye v. State, 437 S.W.3d 62, 77 (Tex. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, pet. ref'd).

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"may as well ..." let somebody get shot. There, FIFY.

The law prof may well be wrong, but so is the policy to set up "robbery stings" where the result is a shootout in a public place, even if all the shooting is unidirectional. Other jurisdictions don't routinely do this.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't understand why you keep calling this a sting operation. This isn't some Minority Report pre-crime thing. You can't arrest someone before they commit a crime. It sounds like an investigation and surveillance followed by some ill-considered reactions on the part of the suspects. I don't wanna exaggerate, but you're very close to saying that no one should be arrested, ever, because there's a danger they might start a shootout.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Anon @09:56, very well said. Your last sentence is spot on!

Miketrials, sorry, but I haven't had a lobotomy. After seeing your comment, it seems that you're the one in need of a lobotomy, but I doubt if it will help.

It's obvious that you know little if anything about police work. Whether you and Grits like it or not, attempting to catch a gang of robbers in the act is a good police operation. The fact that one of the thugs pulled a gun on the clerk but left with nothing constitutes attempted robbery. It was only a matter of time before these scumbags would have shot a store clerk or some other intended victim. When after leaving the store, instead of submitting to arrest, they pointed their guns at the cops. The cops responded appropriately and as I said before, thanks to HPD, store clerks are somewhat safer now.

Miketrials, it seems as though you have a strong dislike of the police. Let me suggest that if you should ever be confronted by a gun wielding thug or should your home be burglarized, don't call for the cops ... call a lawyer or civil rights activist instead.

Anonymous said...

Shotgun squads were formed in the late 1960's because the owners of Pilgrim's Cleaners were sick and tired of their stores being robbed all the time. Depending on who was Chief at the time over the years, these squads were either officers working extra jobs or even on duty officers, Lee P. Brown throwing a fit about them to the point he ordered that no HPD officers could work them in the mid 80's. The way they were handled ranged from officers sitting in back rooms with shotguns ready to pounce to small groups of officers handling a small area known for excessive robberies. For the most part, they really cut into robberies across the whole city because criminals were aware that their chances of being confronted were much greater than usual. I don't recall any citizens other than the criminals being hurt but there were more than a few crooks shot dead.

Brown's objection was not at how effective this method was at reducing the number of repeat offenders or dissuading others from this kind of crime but that there was such a high potential for an officer, store clerk, or other shopper to be hurt, possibly killed. But as some have noted, the media and population were incredibly supportive of the effort based on the results and the lack of innocents being harmed. Given the way corners are so routinely cut these days due to manpower or funding shortages, I can't say that quite as many people would support these types of efforts.

The problem with trying to convict someone of armed robbery when the act never occurred is obvious to anyone except the hand wringers and if the police have a genuine belief that certain suspects are going to rob specific places, many expect them to intervene beforehand rather than worry about convictions. Where any of us land on the scale here is a personal thing but I know that I wouldn't want to knowingly confront some of the sludge this city offers even where I might be better armed than they are, because they are still armed.

Miketrials said...


How quaint. Can't contend with the message, so bark at the messenger. You wouldn't know obvious if it bit you -- pun intended. I know far more about police procedure than you might credit, and am on excellent terms with the marshals and agents, with their well-developed bullshit detectors, whom I deal with daily. I did not suggest (read it again -- you can read, right?) that this might not be necessary, rather that 5 dead strongly implies a shoot-first mentality that simply is neither necessary nor safe. If anyone doesn't understand the po-po, it's someone who thinks there can't be a better way, and merely wants to dance around the deserving corpses.

Far from having a strong dislike of the police, I really dislike those who carry water for those who make their job more difficult and dangerous. Look up the statistics for blue-on-blue shootings, if you really give a damn. What's obvious is that civilians and other cops are placed at risk by this kind of cowboy mentality. Seems like you'll never understand that, even if you want to. Meanwhile, we locally are burying a decent and hardworking young man shot and killed by -- wait for it -- another cop in the LOD. We "understand" this, after all the deader was both black and in plainclothes. How good a police operation was that? Only when the ROE are severely curtailed, and cops are trained to a much higher standard, will we stop seeing this kind of tragedy, whether in the form of another cop or another unarmed civilian.

BarkGrowlBite said...


So, being on excellent terms with the marshals makes you an expert on police procedures. Yeah right. And me being on excellent terms with my cardiologist, makes me an expert on cardiovascular medicine.

As for blue-on-blue killings, I see that you are an expert at cherry picking in an attempt to prove that I am wrong.

Since this is getting to be like Trump and Cruz sniping at each other, say what you like, but I'm through wasting my time by responding to your drivel.