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After Botched Raid, Houston Community Wants A Change To Police's 'No Knock Warrants'

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

People in Houston are angry and frustrated nearly a month after a fatal police shooting there. Officers had rushed unannounced into a home where they thought drugs were being sold. There was gunfire. Police were shot. Then they killed the couple inside the home. Now people want the police to change its practice of no-knock warrants. Here's Houston Public Media's Florian Martin.

FLORIAN MARTIN, BYLINE: It was a drug raid gone terribly wrong in southeast Houston.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: When you're scared, when someone knocks down your door and you're not - of course, you know, you're going to react.

MARTIN: A neighbor interviewed by ABC13 was skeptical. Right away, there were questions. The alleged drug dealers, a married couple who lived there, were killed in the shootout. The story, at first, was about heroic officers fighting for their lives. Then it shifted to one about police misconduct because an officer may have lied to get a search warrant. Neighbors and the couple's family members painted a picture of them that didn't fit those of dangerous drug dealers. But Houston Police Officers' Union President Joe Gamaldi saw it as a violent attack on police.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE GAMALDI: We are sick and tired of having dirtbags trying to take our lives when all we're trying to do is protect this community and protect our families.

MARTIN: He also took the opportunity to slam those who criticized police. Chief Art Acevedo later called those comments over the top. At another press conference, the chief gave a step-by-step account of what happened during the raid.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ART ACEVEDO: The first officers through the door armed with a shotgun was charged immediately by a very large pit bull.

MARTIN: The officer killed the dog. That's when the homeowner, Dennis Tuttle, started shooting at that officer. The homeowner's wife, Rhogena, tried to grab the officer's shotgun, and she was killed by police. Faced with mounting questions, the chief released a search warrant. It shows the narcotics officers alleged there was heroin in the house. However, they only found small amounts of cocaine and marijuana. Then the police department's internal affairs investigators couldn't locate the confidential informant mentioned in the warrant affidavit.

Two officers have been suspended, including the lead officer in the raid, Gerald Goines, who is under criminal investigation. At a town hall meeting, activists and community members like Eileen De Los Santos demanded answers from the police chief and district attorney.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EILEEN DE LOS SANTOS: I don't trust being in my own home near that home because I don't know if someone's going to knock down my door and shoot my dogs and kill me and my husband.

MARTIN: Houston police have since said they would end no-knock search warrants in most cases. Going forward, any time officers want to request a warrant from a judge that lets them enter a home without first announcing their presence, the chief has to sign off on it first. And while Chief Acevedo initially resisted an outside investigation, last week he announced the FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the case.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ACEVEDO: The FBI will do a collaborative investigation. It's independent, however we're actually having to work with them because we will provide them information and some of our evidence.

MARTIN: There are now three agencies investigating what happened - Houston police, the FBI and the local district attorney. Acevedo says he expects more legal problems for the officers involved.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ACEVEDO: I'm very, very confident that we're going to have criminal charges on one or more police officers.

MARTIN: In addition, the district attorney is reviewing 1,400 cases that officer Goines has worked on during his 34 years at the police department. Several cases have already been dismissed. For NPR News, I'm Florian Martin in Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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