HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Police Department has created a new narcotics squad to serve high-risk warrants following a January botched drug raid that left two civilians dead and an officer charged with murder.
Police Chief Art Acevedo confirmed the new unit will begin operations in November, the Houston Chronicle reported. It will not serve so-called no-knock warrants, which are raids in which officers break into a home without warning to execute warrants.
The move is an effort to protect officers from similar incidents in the future, Acevedo said, though he previously noted the raid was not indicative of a systematic problem.
"I'm not going to wait until we have a second situation where four officers get shot," he said. "I would rather have a heavily vetted and trained team to carry out these operations."
Lt. Thomas Hardin will supervise the new squad's three sergeants and 17 officers, Acevedo said. Hardin's earlier assignments include the department's SWAT division, Westside patrol, recruiting, auto-theft and narcotics.
On Jan. 28, the department conducted the no-knock raid at the home of 58-year-old Rhogena Nicholas and her 59-year-old husband Dennis Tuttle to shut down an alleged heroin dealing operation, officials said. An ensuing gun battle left the pair dead and four officers shot. Police found small amounts of marijuana and cocaine but did not locate any of the heroin they said they were searching for.
Former Officer Gerald Goines, who was shot in the gunfight, was charged in August with two counts of felony murder after police accused him of lying in a search warrant about having a confidential informant buying heroin at the home.
Goines later acknowledged that there was no informant and that he bought the drugs himself, authorities said. Another former officer, Steven Bryant, was charged with tampering with a government record for allegedly providing false information in a report after the raid that corroborated Goines' story about a confidential informant.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office is reviewing the shooting, and prosecutors have dismissed dozens of Goines' and Bryant's active cases. The FBI has also opened a civil rights probe into the incident.
In March, Acevedo announced that narcotics officers would start wearing body cameras while executing search warrants. Previously, the department only issued devices to patrol officers.
Mike Doyle, a lawyer for Nicholas' family, said the department still has not answered numerous questions about the raid. He said a better approach would be to answer remaining questions before making changes.
"If you're going to say 'we're going to change things,' but not say what problems are ... you can't know whether it's helpful or not," Doyle said.
Other critics said the department's move neglected to address the raid's key issue, which is officers launching the operation with poorly vetted information.