Nomination For A Hero Badge

Steven Bryant and Gerald Goines

HOUSTON (AP) — Two former Houston police officers are facing federal charges related to providing false information in a January drug raid that left two people dead and several officers injured, authorities announced on Wednesday.

It’s called a “balls warrant”. Lazy or stupid cops under pressure to produce results, cut corners. Usually there is a kernel of truth in the search warrant affidavit, the street address exists. The people named are likely associated with the address.

From there it gets problematic. The “credible and reliable person” (informant) may or may not exist. If such a person exists they may not meet acceptable definitions of credible, or reliable. It could be that the affiant, they guy that does the swearing is the only person who has ever attached the terms credible and reliable to the informant.

As the FBI, with their FISA warrants, so ably demonstrated, all that is required is the willingness to lie to a judge. What’s a felony among friends? If the Houston debacle runs true to form, the officers will be held to account and the sins of the entire narcotics unit will be laid at their feet.

These guys deserve everything that is in store for them. I don’t intend to defend them. I have sweated over too many search warrant affidavits. It used to upset me when judges seemingly couldn’t be bothered to read the affidavit.

The process, from collecting information, drafting the affidavit, presenting it to a judge, putting together an operations plan, assembling a raid team and executing the search warrant was to serious to all involved. For the police it meant we had license to invade somebody’s home. For the home’s occupants the safety and security offered by that abode would never be the same. The privacy offered was no longer there. The police would probe and pry out secrets. It is likely that, as a result, somebody was going to lose their freedom. On a really bad day somebody could lose their life.

Most people have a vague idea of what the Bill of Rights entails. A thinking cop, motivated to do things right, lives the Bill of Rights. It’s called arrest, search and seizure law. It is the blue print for how to apply the concept outlined in the first ten amendments.

Applying concrete facts to a conceptual standard is why we have search warrants and judges. It is the cop’s job to provide the context. It is the judge’s job to see if the context meets the standard. Outright lies on the part of the cops undermines any decision the judge may make. A judge’s willingness to sign anything put in front of him, does the cops a disservice. Society suffers as a result.

As Bluto used to say, “It isn’t any fun if you got to lie on the paperwork to catch them.”

Unfortunately, balls warrants, sloppy operational planning, bad tactics and out of control cops are not just the fault of the individual officers. They are operating within the culture of the unit to which they are assigned. When an event such as what happened in Houston occurs it right to investigate and assign responsibility for the failure. All to often, the search stops when an individual is identified. Then all the failures individual and institutional are placed on the accused officers. They did not operate in a vacuum.

A retired Police Chief that I trust says that Art Acevedo is one of the good ones. He has ordered an audit of the entire Narcotics Division.

In addition, the entire 175-person narcotics division of HPD will be subject to an “extensive audit” in order to assess whether there are any other Goines-like officers among its ranks.

Acevedo noted that Assistant Chief Pedro Lopez was tasked with this inquiry “to make sure that we’re not being myopic, that we look at our entire narcotics operation out there, in terms of the street level units, and they’ll be conducting a very extensive audit.”

Almost twenty years ago, one of our investigators got too cozy with a female informant. We should have caught it, but didn’t. He started using cocaine with her. Like the old Cheech and Chong joke, “Cops got the best dope,” he started stealing cocaine from the evidence locker. He wrecked his g-ride on the way in to work. As a result he had to take a urine test.

He failed the test, but established a new record for the amount of cocaine he had ingested. He was sent back to his police department. We started an audit of the evidence locker. A significant quantity of drugs, cocaine and ecstasy were missing.

We tried to enlist the aid of the FBI in the investigation. They were busy. We contacted Texas DPS Narcotics, they weren’t interested. The Texas Rangers said they would get back to us. They didn’t. In the end, the boss came to me and it became my case.

At the end of two weeks, I started putting all of the information we had developed into a search warrant. Twelve hours later after numerous revisions I was ready to take it to the United States Attorney. The following morning the United States Magistrate Judge approved the affidavit and signed the search warrant.

Putting together an operational plan and then executing the plan is fraught with problems. We were faced with executing a search warrant on one of our own. We trained him. Had he been given the chance, the makeup of the “stack” that we used would not vary. (By stack, I mean the individual officers, position in line, weapons, duties assigned.) He would be able to predict the movements of individuals: high low, go left or right, shooting ability and inclination.

The team found him sprawled on the bed, hand under pillow, gun in hand.

When the dust settled we found out stolen cocaine, complete with evidence tag on the wrapper. We found two naked former informants. We found hundreds of photos of the three of them doing drugs. We also found stolen guns. He went to trial and was found guilty.

The former informant, that started his whole downward slide showed up at his sentencing. She was accompanied by a dog ugly bull dyke. They sat in the back of the courtroom and played bump and tickle. I don’t guess there is any good way to hear a judge sentence one to 144 months in a Federal prison. However, watching the woman that started you down that path playing with your replacement, while the judge does so, has got to be up there with the worst way.

The story isn’t over. DPS narcotics took over the administration of the Byrnes grant task forces. DPS called a meeting of all the task force commanders. Many of the task forces were being run by DPS Lieutenants, but not all.

After the first day of meetings many of the commanders retired to the hotel bar. My boss found a table and was seated by himself. An adjoining table was soon occupied by several DPS task force commanders. Cops love to gossip. It wasn’t long before the recent trial of our guy was brought into the discussion. They had no idea that the boss was nearby.

DPS are all of a type. They chase cars for years. Their law enforcement is at a level slightly above meter maid. They take a test and when the results come in, they are suddenly investigators. To this point their investigative ability has been limited to: “Was that light yellow or red?” Their report writing was confined to 6 x 8 inch traffic ticket. As an example of their relative intelligence the goofy bastards actually believe that they are qualified investigators.

To get back to the discussion. The considered opinion of these DPS lieutenants, now performing at a local command level, was that the boss had to be crazy. He had the perfect solution in hand. Send the bent narc back to his police chief. It would then be the police chief’s problem. Attribute any loss of evidence to the bent narc. No prosecution, no publicity, done. These paragons of DPS law enforcement are responsible for establishing and maintaining the “culture” of their respective units.

No wonder we couldn’t get any help from DPS. What that DPS brain trust forgot or maybe it was never discussed, in their agency, is that it is important to do the right thing. You do the right thing because it is right, not because there is an audience. It doesn’t matter if the right thing hurts in the short term, it will pay dividends in the long run. It isn’t true that nobody is there to witness you doing the right thing. You will know. Doing the right thing isn’t about amassing brownie points.

Evading responsibility, covering up and shifting blame might be the DPS way but it is not the right way.