ABOVE: Left: Byron Prophet tells his story on a Zoom call. Right: Gerald Goines
Suit: Houston man spent 7 years in state prison based on the illegal actions and fraudulent testimony of former cop Gerald Goines, now charged with murder in the Harding Street raid.
A Houston man who says he was wrongfully convicted on drug charges is suing the now-discredited former undercover narcotics officer who arrested him, as well as the City of Houston and former Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt.
Byron J. Prophet, who turns 36 this month, spent seven years in prison based on the unethical investigatory tactics and fraudulent trial testimony of former Houston Police Department (HPD) narcotics officer Gerald Goines, a new lawsuit claims.
The wrongful conviction lawsuit alleges that Goines had a lengthy history of “misrepresentations and misconduct” that were sanctioned by the City, HPD and the Harris County Attorney’s Office, which gave him “unrestrained access to the tools necessary to target, victimize, and perpetuate a huge fraud upon ordinary citizens of Harris County, including Byron.”
Goines was involved in a February 2008 raid of a presumed “dope house” on Houston’s south side that resulted in Prophet’s arrest. Hurtt was HPD chief during that time, from 2004 to 2009.
Prophet, then 23, said he had been in the neighborhood where his grandmother lived.
“What I do remember is seeing a van coming down the street with officers with masks on,” Prophet said in a July 17 teleconference with reporters. “They pulled into the driveway … and they came out with assault rifles and they told me to get on the ground. … People were screaming and people were running everywhere and I just froze up because I didn’t know what was going on.”
U.A. Lewis, the lead attorney representing Prophet, said Goines searched him outside that day and acquired his license, but photographed the ID on the countertop amid drugs and paraphernalia found inside the house.
During trial, that image was used to support testimony from Goines linking Prophet to the drugs, according to Lewis and an appeal Prophet filed to challenge his convictions.
“During the trial phase, how can I compete with someone who stands in a front a jury and says ‘I am an officer of 25 years.’ at that time?’’ Prophet told reporters. “The jury automatically looked at me like, like I was nobody. I hadn’t been to prison before.”
The lawsuit accuses Goines of fabricating evidence and intentionally offering false trial testimony that led to Prophet’s arrest; his 2008 convictions on two felony drug possession charges tried together; and his 16-year sentence. His convictions were affirmed in 2010 by the Texas Court of Appeals.
Prophet’s assertions of innocence got a renewed opportunity to be believed following what is now known as the Harding Street raid, a January 2019 botched drug bust-turned-firefight involving Goines and Squad 15 of HPD’s narcotics division that resulted in the deaths of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas. That incident placed Goines under unprecedented scrutiny.
Since May 2019, investigators and civil rights prosecutors have been reviewing about 14,000 cases involving Goines and Squad 15. The review has cleared at least two men because of “intentional misconduct” that occurred in 2008, and other cases have been dismissed, according to the DA’s office.
The office of Harris County DA Kim Ogg also reached out through letters to hundreds of other previous defendants, including Prophet, who were convicted based on testimony from Goines, who was investigated concerning claims that he stole guns, drugs and money.
To date, Goines has been indicted on two counts of murder in the Harding Street raid, and his partner, Steven Bryant, is charged with one count of tampering with a government record.
In May, Ogg filed requests with the court in which she concludes that defendants in cases spanning more than a decade, 2008 to 2019, in which Goines played a substantial role “are entitled to a presumption that he provided false evidence.” That same month, Harris County prosecutors filed motions supporting the appointment of attorneys to investigate claims of due process relief for individuals, including Prophet, “based on the presentation of false evidence.”
And in July 2020, Ogg announced new felony charges against Goines and Bryant, as well as four now-retired members of the narcotics squad who were tied to the pair.
Still, the ramifications of the experience still loom large for Prophet.
“The penitentiary for me was very traumatic. Very. I don’t want no one to see what I saw,” Prophet said on the conference call, noting he wants his conviction overturned, a fresh start without the stain of a felony – which makes finding work difficult, he said – and laws passed to prevent other officers from ruining lives through unethical and criminal behavior. “I want awareness brought to the Houston Police Department so this wouldn’t happen to no one else.”
Lewis, in a separate interview, as did Prophet in the teleconference, noted that the visual representations in today’s court of public opinion don’t comport with reality a dozen years ago in 2008. Lewis said that Goines, then in his mid-40s, was muscular like “a hulk” and not like today’s 55-year-old murder defendant.
Prophet offered a similar description.
“When he was younger, he was a big cop. He didn’t even look like a cop. He looked like someone real dangerous,” said Prophet, who was described in court papers as “a small-frame” man.
Lewis added that her client was forced to become a different person when he went to prison.
He buffed up and got tattoos to survive inside the walls, she said.
The civil action filed by Prophet seeks compensatory damages, as well as payment for losses, ranging from deprivation of legal rights to emotional distress and mental anguish.
He is represented by Lewis, Okwudili Onyekwelu and Damion Millington – all of the Lewis Law Group – as well as longtime Houston civil rights attorney Randall Kallinen of Kallinen Law.