Law enforcement officials in Galveston County should seriously reconsider the perilous practice of no-knock warrants.
Executing such warrants, which allow officers to enter a home without knocking or otherwise announcing their presence, is a dangerous tactic at odds with a state that reveres the Second Amendment and the right of people to protect themselves in their own homes. In Texas, if you burst into a home in the dark of night using the element of surprise, don’t be surprised to find yourself on the business end of a weapon.
Raiding a Texas residence unannounced is like playing Russian roulette. It puts the targets and law enforcement agents at unnecessary risk.
Yet, after two recent deadly executions of no-knock warrants — one in Houston, the other in League City — local law enforcement officials last week told The Daily News they had no plans to change tactics or even put them under harsher scrutiny.
And when you look at what was accomplished from the no-knock warrants making headlines, it’s even more baffling that local law enforcement agents are being stubbornly resistant to change.
In Houston, officials are reviewing the policies after four Houston police officers executing a no-knock warrant were wounded and two civilians were killed — Dennis Tuttle, 59, and Rhogena Nicholas, 58.
Officer Gerald Goines, who prepared the search warrant, is accused of lying in an affidavit to justify storming the house without warning, according to reports.
Closer to home, in May last year, a League City police officer shot and killed Roger Fortner, 49, when SWAT team members encountered him in his own bedroom with a “samurai-style” sword, which he refused to put down, police said.
Officers entered Fortner’s home on Morning Side Drive in an investigation into reports of drugs and weapons being sold at the residence, police said.
A judge issued that search warrant not in connection to Fortner, but his stepson, Brandon Wilson, 20, of League City.
Police arrested Wilson at the scene and prosecutors later charged him with possession of marijuana and one count of possession of a controlled substance for less than 1 gram of THC investigators detected at the scene, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Wilson on July 25 was sentenced to four years in prison for violating deferred probation of a 2017 charge of tampering with physical evidence, court records show. He also pleaded guilty to the possession of a controlled substance and prosecutors dismissed the possession of marijuana charge, court records show.
League City police officer Matt Maggiolino fired the fatal shot, but has not been charged in the shooting and authorities have not said whether the shooting has been considered by a grand jury.
No-knock warrants are widespread, although controversial. More than 81 civilians and 13 police officers died during such raids between 2010 and 2016, according to a New York Times investigation.
Galveston County officials said they didn’t have plans to review policy on no-knock warrants several days after Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said he or a designee would have to approve seeking such warrants in the future after the Jan. 28 raids that led to the deaths of Tuttle and Nicholas.
District Attorney Jack Roady said no-knock warrants can be critical to ensure officer safety and should be sought when justified by the facts.
Facts justifying the no-knock warrant that cost Fortner his life have been hard to come by, however, indicating that it might be easier than it should be for police to get them.
Everyone wants law enforcement officials to be safe. But it’s hard to see how taking a criminal, believed to be dangerous, by surprise is the safest strategy.
Law enforcement officials in Galveston County should follow Houston’s lead and review their tactics before more civilians and police are wounded and killed.
• Laura Elder