The warning signs were there all along!
That is what a former Houston Police Department (HPD) officer and a community activist group are saying after the release of an HPD Narcotics Division Audit Report, which has revealed some troubling revelations about the questionable patterns and practices that have taken place over the years at the fifth-largest municipal police department in the country.
This past Wednesday, July 1, HPD released the entire 66-page, publicly-funded audit report of the HPD Narcotics Division via Twitter – an audit that was ordered after a no-knock assault by HPD narcotics officers on Harding Street led to the untimely deaths of two unarmed people – Rhogena Nicholas and her husband, Dennis Tuttle – and their dog. The internal review of the HPD Narcotics Division covered the timeframe from January 28, 2016 to January 28, 2019.
Coincidentally, the release occurred on the same day that Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced that four additional former HPD officers had been charged in connection with the botched raid, which has brought the number of indicted officers to six (6).
The most infamous officer of the indicted group, Gerald Goines, was originally indicted for felony murder and tampering with a government document back in January. Former HPD officer Steven Bryant was also initially charged with tampering with a government document.
With Ogg’s latest announcement, both Goines and Bryant have had new charges added to their cases, which include:
- Goines (three charges of tampering with a government record, which involves search warrants; and one charge of theft by a public servant between $2,500 and $30,000) and;
- Bryant (two charges of tampering with a government record, which includes confidential informant forms containing details of money allegedly given to informants for services or buying drugs; and one charge of theft by a public servant between $2,500 and $30,000).
- Relative to the four additional former HPD Officers, their charges include:
- Sgt. Clemente Reyna (three charges of tampering with a government record, which includes the handling of confidential informant forms; and one charge of theft by a public servant between $2,500 and $30,000);
- Sgt. Thomas Wood (one charge of tampering with a government record, which includes the handling of a confidential informant form; and one charge of theft by a public servant between $2,500 and $30,000);
- Lt. Robert Gonzales (one charge of misapplication of fiduciary property, which involves the reckless handling of HPD money, because the officer was required to verify and authorize any expenditures of up to $2,500); and
- Officer Hodgie Armstrong (one charge of tampering with a government record, which includes the handling of an offense report).
The timing of the release has had many people scratching their heads, especially after many state lawmakers and community activists had been demanding the release of the audit for months prior to the release on July 1.
If you are keeping count of the charges, five out of the six indicted officers have been charged with tampering with a government record, or more plainly put, falsifying government documents. The allegations surrounding the charges involve the use of false information to get judges to sign search warrants, along with other documents that are alleged to have been falsified such as offense reports, time sheets and other government documents.
One of the most eye-opening parts of the report, involved the review of the investigations involving officers Goines and Bryant. The report revealed that the “audit reviewed a total of 231 investigations completed by SPO Goines and Bryant between 2016-2019 to determine the types and frequency of errors discovered” and “the results of the examination found 404 errors” along with other findings.
Former HPD Officer and Whistleblower Kathy Swilley has always tried to warn HPD officials that HPD officers were fabricating evidence relative to cases, including her wrongful termination. She has presented verifiable evidence that HPD presented a fabricated certification, of then-Chief Harold L. Hurtt, and other documents to a judge in order to fraudulently obtain a summary judgment ruling in favor of the City of Houston and HPD.
Swilley states that her warnings to the City of Houston and HPD were completely ignored, and that evidence related to new high-profile cases like the botched Harding Street drug raid, validate her warnings, because there is an affidavit tied to the case that was found to have been fabricated in order to obtain a search warrant.
Back in June 2018, the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice (GHCFJ) sent a letter to HPD Chief Art Acevedo regarding former HPD officers Kathy Swilley and Demetrius Wright’s wrongful terminations, in which the GHCFJ stated:
“Furthermore, we are concerned that the police misconduct these officers were subjected to, the manipulation of investigations, falsified documents, fabricated evidence and baseless criminal investigation are detrimental to the citizens of Houston.”
The GHCFJ released another statement this week, raising their concerns once again about what they believe has been a pattern and practice of fabricated evidence at HPD for some time.
“GHCFJ is concerned that the problem of fabricated evidence is much bigger than Officer Gerald Goines or the Narcotics Division and that HPD has a broad pattern and practice of fabricating evidence,” the statement read. “The GHCFJ requests an independent audit of HPD, including fabricated evidence that led to the termination of Former HPD Officer Swilley and other officers who claim they were issued dishonorable discharges based on fabricated evidence, ending their law enforcement careers.”
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, it is important, now more than ever, to have serious discussions about police reforms, and to deal with the issues surrounding falsifying information within HPD, along with other law enforcement agencies across the country.
Back in 2006, former Buffalo police officer Cariol Horne was fired from the Boston Police Department after serving 19 years in the department. Why was she fired?
Horne intervened in a situation involving a fellow officer after showing up at the scene of a call, and found the officer punching and choking a handcuffed suspect. Horne tried to stop the officer, but he subsequently turned around and punched her in the face.
Again, she was fired. But the officer, who assaulted her and the handcuffed suspect, kept his job.
Like Swilley, Horne has been fighting to receive her pension since being fired, which they both claim was an unjust termination. Horne has introduced Cariol’s Law – a bill that requires police officers to intervene when witnessing police misconduct, without being retaliated against by the department or other officers. The bill also requires retroactive payment to officers who have been terminated after reporting police misconduct.
Swilley strongly believes there is no way former HPD officer Goines could have done all he has been charged with doing, without having someone above him being aware of the wrongdoing, primarily because HPD has systems in place to prevent such incidents. Swilley states that everyday honest police officers are forced to work side-by-side with dishonest officers and supervisors who commit police misconduct, and are forced to turn a blind eye, especially if a superior officer or a higher ranking officer is involved in that misconduct.
Swilley is requesting that the City of Houston open an official investigation into all City employees, especially HPD officers, who may have fabricated evidence. She has also called on the City of Houston to create a Police Whistleblower Committee (PWC) and a Public Integrity Unit to investigate anonymous phone complaints of police misconduct by fellow officers, without fear of retaliation, in an effort to prevent possible future incidents such as in her case, the Harding Street case, and other individuals who have been the victims of falsified information.
The Forward Times will continue to follow this issue to see if more cases, such as that of Swilley, Horne, and Kimberly Trimmer-Davis (another former HPD officer), will be further reviewed to see if they will receive proper restoration for the decisions that have severely impacted them for all these years.