Saturday, February 16, 2019

Why we know so little about the bad cop at the center of the botched Houston drug raid

A couple of weeks ago, Grits raised numerous questions about a drug-raid-gone-bad in Houston that left four officers shot and two homeowners and two of their dogs dead. Police-union leadership blamed police-accountability activists for the episode, and the mayor and city council members backed them up.

Now, it turns out the informant identified in the search warrant may not exist, and the narcotics officer in question has a lengthy disciplinary history, though much of it only documented in closed records that are not part of his official disciplinary file. It's become clear that the officer in question, Gerald Goines, should have been ousted from the force long ago, or at least rotated off the narcotics squad.

Revisiting key questions
To sort through this unqualified mess, let's start with some of the questions Grits raised immediately after the episode. For several of them, we now have answers.

What was the informant's background, and what was their relationship to their detective handler? It turned out the informant did not exist. Relationship to the detective? Imaginary friend.

Where did the informant get the heroin? Officer Steven Bryant retrieved the heroin out of Gerald Goines car, it did not come from the home in question.

Is it plausible that this couple would sell smack to a CI sent to their front door whom they'd never met before? No. This was a fabrication; it did not occur.

I'd asked, "Will the Conviction Integrity Unit at the Harris County District Attorney's Office now review those 10+ cases using this informant in the past?" But now that question shifts to cases by officer Goines and Bryant. (The latter man turned on Goines during questioning, but he was part of the faked-buy bust and was the one who turned planted evidence into the lab for testing.) There is at least one man currently petitioning the Court of Criminal Appeals to be declared actually innocent from one of Goines' past drug stings.

Why were Goines' disciplinary records secret?
Finding the answers to these questions shed a lot more light on the episode, but also raises many more, including about the department's policies related to body cameras and over-use of SWAT tactics for routine search warrants. There will be lots of time to delve into those in the coming weeks and months as more information comes out, but here's an interesting one that relates to pending Texas legislation: 

Why were so many of Officer Goines misconduct episodes absent from his personnel file? As you read through the Houston Chronicle story, multiple incidents involving Goines that appeared in the newspaper's archives were not recorded in his official disciplinary history reporters received from the department.

Here's why: Houston is one of about 70 Texas municipalities that have opted into the state's "civil service code" for police and firefighters (Ch. 143 of the Texas Local Government Code). Most cities whose voters opted into it did so in the 1940s and '50s. But thirty years ago, police unions succeeded in making most disciplinary records secret in these "civil service cities." Under Ch. 143.089(g) of the Local Government Code, only information about misconduct that results in a suspension is public, and then only a summary, not the whole file.

That means the episodes documented by the newspaper probably do exist in the department's Internal Affairs files somewhere, but are secret in Houston because of Ch. 143.

By contrast, if the same episode had occurred in Dallas, which never opted into Ch. 143, every jot and tittle of the old investigative files would be public, only excepting narrow issues related to personal privacy like addresses, social security numbers, etc..

This is a huge carve-out: Texas has more than 2,600 agencies employing licensed peace officers, about 1,800 of which are municipal police departments, plus another 254 county sheriffs. Of those, all but 70 "civil service" departments and all but one sheriff (Harris County) operate with their disciplinary files subject to disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act. (N.b., many cities and counties have some version of "civil service" in their own charters or codes, but here I use the term only to apply to Ch. 143 cities.)

This leads to absurd results. For example, in Fort Worth, the police department is under the civil service code and the Sheriff is not. Let's say an FWPD officer and a Tarrant County Sheriff's deputy engage in the same misconduct - in fact, let's say for illustrative purposes that they committed the misconduct together - and both were given a written reprimand.

At the Sheriff's Office, the entire investigative file regarding the incident would become a public record after the reprimand was handed down. At FWPD, there would be no public record of the episode at all. If the two were suspended, only a summary of the FWPD officer's misconduct would be released, but requestors would not receive remotely the level of detail available down the street at the Sheriff's Office.

This secret file even creates problems for prosecutors. Under Brady v. Maryland and (particularly) the Michael Morton Act, prosecutors are required to disclose impeachment evidence about their witnesses to the defense. So, for example, in Officer Goines situation, his misconduct in this case, or past details about the cases described by the Chronicle, might call into question his reliability as a witness. But police departments cannot release that information, even to prosecutors, under Ch. 143, leading people like Barbara Hervey of the Court of Criminal Appeals to support making such records public.

At the Legislature this go-round, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa this year has filed SB 433 to open currently closed records under that 143.089(g) file, referred to colloquially as "the g file" in civil-service parlance. The bill has already been referred to the Criminal Justice Committee. Hinojosa filed the same bill in 2017 after a terrible episode in San Antonio where evidence of innocence was concealed by police from Bexar County prosecutors, allowing a man who'd been beaten by police while handcuffed to plead guilty to assaulting a police officer. 

Now, in the HPD's Gerald Goines, we have another excellent example of how making these records secret undermines justice and accountability.

There will be many more policy issues arising from this episode, Grits is certain, in the coming weeks and months. But this issue of secret-misconduct files is one the Texas Legislature should address this session. SB 433 (Hinojosa) should be passed as soon as possible.

21 comments:

TriggerMortis said...

Just a reminder to readers not to post anything negative about HPD or Officer Joe Gamaldi as he's got your number...

Gadfly said...

I tweeted this link to Jim Schutze, to ask him to stop his recent trend of columns that have come close to being blank checks for cops.

Anonymous said...

Trigger:

HPOU is a private organization and NOT subject to sovereign immunity, whether they think so or not. The organization and their goonion members can be sued or prosecuted just like any other citizen.

To be sure, if the feebies are called in to investigate the murder of the Tuttles, (one local news report says this has already happened) they and the IRS should take a long hard look at HPOU’s activities and records. Even if the feebies haven’t been asked by Acevedo to investigate, they can, of their own volition initiate an investigation, which should have already happened. (Given the deference of the current DoJ toward police activity, it may take and act of congress to get the feebies to look in the police murders of the Tuttles.)

I'm calling this low grade pizza jerk’s bluff, and no credible activist or citizen should be afraid of this loudmouth union goon.

Anonymous said...

If the law enforcement community in Texas or any other state for that matter wants to be seen as a credible and trustworthy entity, they have to stop hiding behind rules that they make up to protect the guilty in their departments. Art Acevedo is certainly less than an outstanding pillar of the law enforcement community. His record in Austin was not the kind you'd want leading a reputable agency.






Anonymous said...

Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Thx to folks like grits, we get a cleaner society.
Govt that serves itself is really just tyranny.

You want an issue that drives PIA reform, here it is.

Anonymous said...

So did this cop get two innocent homeowners killed?

texasyankee said...

Art Acevedo said the incident shows the need for better gun control. Yeah, for HPD officers.

Anonymous said...

Sec. 143.089.(g) states,
"...but the department may not release any information contained in the department file to any agency or person requesting information relating to a fire fighter or police officer..."

Grits, just for clarification for us noobs, when you state that the Dallas PD "never opted into" Ch. 143.089(g) of the Local Government Code, does that imply that any officer hired at DPD is informed and signs a legal document beforehand, as a condition of employment, allowing their personnel records (all good and bad) to be available upon PIA request or Discovery in opposition to Ch. 143.089(g)?

Or is Ch. 143.089 more of a suggestion rather that a hard-n-fast rule?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Don't know that they signed a legal document, it's just the law.

And no, not a suggestion. A very hard and fast rule.

Anonymous said...

@texasyankee these murders by the cops are exactly why we should all be armed. We should all have motion detectors near the entrances of our homes along with a surveillance system with audio that records to the cloud. For around 600.00 or so depending on the size of your house you can have a system. I pay another 30.00 a month for the cloud storage. May not protect you completely but at the very least all activity will be recorded and safely stored someplace where it can't be fooled with by cops trying to cover up their crimes and burglars can't just take the hard drive. You can find the system that's right for you on Amazon.

texasyankee said...

10:32. Don't disagree at all. But these homeowners were armed and ended up dead. Citizens can outgun criminals but not the cops.

Anonymous said...

5:53 here-

If it's law, how can DPD just "opt-out" while other LEOs follow it? It seems that DPD Officers who have their personnel records (especially the bad stuff) released to the public may have reason for suing the department.

IANAL, so any legal scholar input would be great.

Anonymous said...

@texasyankee I don't think we can survive a raid by law enforcement. But having a good surveillance system will go a long way to ensuring the facts come to light. A good firearm capable of protecting your home will cost more than a good surveillance system. No one should be without a good surveillance system, especially since the prices are low and reliability is excellent. There are even low priced system which don't require invasive installation so they can be used in rental houses and even apartments. Just as with cell phones and dash cams, the way to hold the Joe Gamaldi's accountable is by recording their actions.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like anony5:01 sells home surveillance systems.

Jeff Reese said...

I think the community owes Johnny Mata some thanks for getting the GHCFJ to host the town hall that showed the city and anyone who saw it, how the community views what happened. The death of the innocent Tuttle family and the raw emotions that have been brought up, flowed up and over and as a result helped change the no-knock warrant policy of the Houston Police Department. Chief Acevedo also agreed to ensure that body camera's will be worn in future raids. Johnny Mata and the other coalition members have also contributed to the changing of the way Grand Juries are picked in Harris County. Ever since the Joe Campos Torres was murdered, Johnny Mata has fought for those who cannot fight for themselves. He formed the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice soon after that tragedy and has led it ever since then, even up until today where he has recently he fought against cancer and won. He has fought the good fight and the citizens of Houston and Harris County owe him a debt that cannot be measured, or re-paid at least not in this lifetime. Just thought I'd out in a plug for someone who deserved it, thanks, Jeff Reese

Anonymous said...

Just curious, why isn't the judge getting a little fallout on the botched Houston raid?

Doesn't he/she have at least some duty to ask questions before signing off? You know questions like "what's the criminal background of the people being raided?"

Anonymous said...

Officer Goines had no history of falsifying affidavits per the linked Chronicle article, most of his disciplinary record not supportive of firing even if proven. Otherwise I agree that officers should be rotated off narcotic duties regularly, the field offering too many temptations to keep people in such assignments for long stretches of time.

Anonymous said...

Has no history of being caught falsifying affidavits.

Anonymous said...

Don't ask, don't tell.

Per KHOU:
In 96 percent of the affidavits he filed in the last seven years he claimed a confidential informant had seen a gun inside. He was granted no-knock warrants for each of those. No weapons were ever recovered foe each of those cases, according to evidence logs Goines filed with the court.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:01, Chief Acevedo has already come out and stated that Goines lack of personally entering a gun into evidence was not necessarily proof of wrong doing. When I first read the story, it sounded like they implied he was keeping those weapons, other sources suggesting that Goines would not be the one taking custody of physical evidence like weapons so they wouldn't find them stored under his name. until more details come out, it's anyone's guess if the factoid had meaning or if it indicated the wrong questions were being asked.

Anonymous said...

11:09

Citing Acevedo's spin on this issue is a non starter. The man has absolutely no concept. He lacks the discipline and intellect to understand that reality must take precedence over public relations. If he had an ounce of integrity and merest scintilla of the concept of competent failure analysis he would have brought in an outside group immediately.

He has a history of this type of BS. Look to his track record in Austin with his crime lab. What a fucking spectacular failure that was. Reverberations from that colossal fuckup are still working their way through the system and will be for years to come. The disassembling SOB spun and spun. He fired the whistle blowers that handed him the roadmap. He denied right up to the point where independent oversight came in and they had to shutter the entire shit show of his because it lacked any redeeming quality at all.