HOUSTON – Since a no-knock warrant led to a botched police raid in Houston last month, the policy of executing these types of warrants has been called into question.
On Jan. 28, Houston police raided the Harding Street home of 59-year-old Dennis Tuttle and 58-year-old Rhogena Nicholas using a warrant that did not require officers to announce their presence or purpose before storming into the home. Tuttle and Nicholas were killed in a shootout with police that also left five officers injured.
Police originally said the warrant was being served as part of a drug investigation. Affidavits later revealed that the officer at the center of the raid is accused of lying to obtain the warrant.
During a heated community meeting this week, Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said that the use of no-knock warrants would end. The next day he backed off that statement, saying that it was impractical for the department to ban the practice, instead, the policy would be modified.
With the no-knock policy being called into question, here’s a look at the policies from Houston and other law enforcement agencies in the metro area.
On Wednesday, Acevedo announced changes to the Houston Police Department’s no-knock policy. He said there will be restrictions on how often these types of warrants are issued, and that he or his designee must review and approve the request for such warrants before it’s sent to a judge for final approval.
Acevedo said that teams that serve these warrants will also be required to wear body cameras.
A spokesman for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said in a written statement that no-knock warrants are rarely used.
“Only two no-knock warrants have been served by Sheriff's Office personnel since Jan. 1, 2017. On the rare occasions when they are used, no-knock warrants are served by teams that include uniformed deputies at the front. Moving forward, requests for no-knock warrants will require prior approval from high-ranking command personnel. In addition, the Sheriff's Office is moving to equip warrant teams and SWAT personnel with body-worn cameras.”
Fort Bend County
A spokesman for the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office issued the following written statement:
“Our practice is to announce police presence and purpose prior to entry into a subject premise when serving search warrants.”
A spokesman for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said in a written statement that officers are expected to comply with the U.S. and Texas constitutions regarding search and seizure practices.
The department’s written policy is as follows:
“The search warrant affidavit will be reviewed by a supervisor; his designee and Asst. District Attorney before the affidavit is presented to the appropriate magistrate. In that affidavit the officer will make his case requesting the use of a "No Knock" search warrant. In this request the officer will have to have completed a thorough "Risk Threat Assessment" on the search warrant and or operation being conducted. The Risk Assessment details the potential of risk to law enforcement and to the public in conducting the operation. The risk includes but is not limited to, the number of suspects, the suspect's criminal history, the knowledge of firearms on premises, the possibility of destruction of evidence and any other factors that could potentially increase danger to the officers or public in executing the operation. Only after an affidavit for a "No Knock" warrant has been submitted by the officer and verified by an Assistant District Attorney and Magistrate will a "No Knock" warrant be signed and approved by the Magistrate.
“In all instances other than mentioned above, officers will knock and announce their presence and intent and give the homeowner an opportunity to open the door.
“In all operations, officers will be wearing distinctive clothing that clearly identifies them as law enforcement. Some officer's faces may be covered for security reasons if so chosen by the supervisor or designee. Also, the use of uniformed personnel and marked police vehicles is required unless it has been waived for the security and safety of the operation.”
The following information was found in the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Policy Manual:
“Officers may request a ‘no knock and announce’ provision in the warrant when they have reason to believe that adherence to the knock-and-announce rule would endanger their safety or the safety of others, would enable wanted persons to escape, or would likely result in the destruction of evidence before entry can be made.”
According to the policy, officers must review search warrants to ensure that they are accurate and complete and are not allowed to serve any warrant that contains errors.