The January 29 Houston PD drug raid that left two homeowners shot dead and four officers shot, continues to make the news amid cries to ban ‘no knock’ search warrants.
The raid on the Harding Street house did not go well, to say the least. The occupants of the house, Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, were killed in a shootout with Houston PD narcotics officers, four of whom were wounded by the gunfire. On top of that, there is evidence that the search warrant affidavit was fabricated by one or more of the raiding officers.
The search warrant obtained by the narcotics officers was a ‘no knock’ warrant. It allows the cops to smash the door in and enter the premises without any warning to the occupants. The purpose of such warrants is to protect officers from being shot if the occupants are known to be armed or to prevent the disposal of contraband.
The protection of officers from getting shot is a legitimate reason for a no knock warrant. But it can be argued that the disposal of evidence is a bogus concern. If there is a large quantity of narcotics and packaging materials in the house, those cannot be flushed down the toilet. Neither can a scale. I once tried to flush about 8 oz of pot down a toilet. No matter how many times I flushed, the marijuana continued to float on top of the water.
The problem with a no knock entry is that the occupant may believe he is being attacked by home invaders and will try to defend himself by shooting at who he believes to be burglars. Although the cops in the Houston raid claim they shouted “police,” Tuttle may not have heard them. That makes sense because Tuttle, 59, had no criminal record and logic says he would not knowingly have shot at the police.
I question the need for no knock search warrants. The drug raids I went on in the Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange counties of California were all conducted with ‘knock and announce’ warrants. And although in most of those raids the occupants of the raided houses were heavily armed, none of them led to a shootout.
All drug raids are dangerous. In the war on drugs there will be casualties on both sides regardless of the type of search warrant used. The safety of both cops and crooks, as well as the avoidance of hitting a wrong target, boils down to meticulous planning, pre-raid orientation of all participants and careful execution of the raid.
Drug raids are usually carried out late at night or before dawn in the belief that the suspects will be asleep and will be surprised before they can reach for a gun.
There is really little difference between the way no knock warrants and knock and announce warrants are carried out. In knock and announce warrants, the police have to knock on the door, identify themselves as the police and announce they have a search warrant. The warrants do not specify how loud the knocks and announcements must be, nor do they specify how long officers must wait before they can kick the door in.
In the raids I went on, we knocked gently on the door and in a normal voice stated “This is the police, we have a search warrant,” and – crash – the door got kicked in. So, what is the difference between no knock warrants and knock and announce warrants? About 10 seconds.
A knock and announce entry, which is designed to let the occupants know it’s the police that want to enter the premises, doesn’t work unless the cops pound on the door and shout out loud “This is the police, we have a search warrant,” and then wait at least one minute during daylight and two minutes at night before kicking the door in. Of course, if after knocking on the door, they hear what sounds like the occupants trying to dispose contraband, they can break in immediately.
At a town hall meeting Monday, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told an angry crowd, “The no-knock warrants are going to go away like leaded gasoline in this city.” He is now bellowing about restricting the use of no knock warrants, but since there is so little difference in the way the two types of warrants are carried out, Acevedo is just blowing more hot air.