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Houston police to end use of no-knock warrants, chief says

Chron logo Chron 2/19/2019 St. John Barned-Smith, Keri Blakinger, Houston Chronicle

a view of a dirty door: Seventeen bullet holes can be seen on the front entrance of 7815 Harding Street, where five Houston Police officers were shot while serving a warrant Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Houston. © Godofredo A. Vasquez, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Seventeen bullet holes can be seen on the front entrance of 7815 Harding Street, where five Houston Police officers were shot while serving a warrant Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Houston.

The Houston Police Department will end its use of controversial no-knock warrants in most situations, Chief Art Acevedo said during a contentious town hall meeting three weeks after a deadly Pecan Park drug raid that left two people dead and five officers injured.

"The no-knock warrants are going to go away like leaded gasoline in this city," Acevedo told the crowd activists, reformers and concerned community members.

After the event, Acevedo said any situation where a no-knock raid would be required would have to receive a special exemption from his office.

"I'm 99.9 percent sure we won't be using them," he said. "If for some reason there would be a specific case, that would come from my office."

Given the wounded officers and the two slain civilians, the chief said he didn't "see the value" in the controversial raids.

"So that's probably going to go by the wayside," he said.

Only on Lack of body cameras limits answers from botched Houston drug raid

The news came during the meeting late Monday after more than an hour of questions from a furious crowd that repeatedly pressed Acevedo on the conduct of his undercover officers, the use of no-knocks and inflammatory comments from Houston police union President Joe Gamaldi who recently seemed to suggest the department was surveilling law enforcement critics.

And, despite pushback earlier in the day from a defense lawyer representing the case agent at the center of the botched bust, Acevedo doubled down on his previous statements about the likelihood of charges against the police involved.

"I'm very confident we're going to have criminal charges on one or more of the officers," he said.

The crowd greeted his declaration with a chorus of angry voices demanding: "All of them."

Still, Acevedo said he wouldn't agree to let the Texas Ranger or the FBI take over the investigation.

"I feel very strongly that a police department that is not capable of investigating itself and finding malfeasance and criminal misconduct," he said, "we should just shut down -- and that's just not the case here."

When asked whether he would fire Gamaldi or others allegedly surveilling or harassing activists, Acevedo said he wouldn't deal with speculation. In response, activist Shere Dore fired back with an allegation that earlier in the day police came out and took pictures of protesters gathered outside Houston police headquarters to demand murder charges against the case agent behind the raid.

Acevedo asked for video to look into the claim.

He went on to say that he would roll out a new policy in the coming weeks to make sure that undercovers wear body cameras; the fact that they didn't in the Harding Street raid was a point of contention afterward, given the lack of evidence to counter the initial narrative.

But Acevedo's sweeping announcements weren't enough to placate some of the town hall attendees.

One member of the audience, Tomaro Bell, expressed indignation over police use of no-knock warrants.

"I do believe this officer is going to be charged with murder," she said, of Goines. "But the systemic problems that exist in the undercover narcotics division will not be resolved with this officer charged with murder."

Another person in the audience, Sandra Longoria Fortner recounted being the victim of a no-knock warrant in League City last year.

Her husband, 49-year-old Roger Lee Fortner was killed after being shot twice in his bed during the raid, she said.

"What the heck is going on," she recalled. "I thought we were being attacked. I didn't think it was police."

She said police departments needed to do more thorough investigations before using dynamic raids.

"I just really think there needs to be more homework - that's all I wanted to accomplish," she said. "Do it for high level criminals, when you're going for the big guy instead of the everyday citizens."

This is a breaking story and will be updated. 

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