Houston Prosecutors Keeping Seized Cash From Cases Compromised by Police Corruption

Harris County prosecutors recommended that at least five convictions be reversed in light of the scandal which engulfed Houston Police Department’s Narcotics Division’s 2019 lethal drug raid. The raid was based on falsified search warrants. These cases had been irredeemably marred by Gerald Goines’s involvement in obtaining the fake search warrant for 2019 that resulted in the deaths of Dennis Tuttle, Rhogena Nick, and other dishonest officers. This did not necessarily mean that defendants could recover money or vehicles seized under the pretense of enforcement drug laws.

Even cases that depended on trustworthiness from demonstrably distrustworthy police officers, The Houston ChronicleAccording to reports, almost all the property that was seized from defendants has been retained by prosecutors. The striking contradiction demonstrates the lax civil asset forfeiture rules, which allow police and prosecutors increase their budgets through confiscating crime-tainted property.

The ChronicleThere were “a dozen cases in the recent past in which Squad 15’s narcotics unit indicted members swore that they knew the facts necessary to support a search that would lead to vehicle or cash confiscation.” Over a period of five years, the loot included approximately $75,000 cash and multiple cars. The records show that at least some of the money taken during busts was returned in five instances. ChronicleReports state that forfeitures are usually challenged by lawyers hired by defendants. However, the county retained the remainder of the money as well as the cars. Prosecutors consider that the evidence leading to seizures is unreliable since it was provided by cops who have a track record of fabricating stuff.

In 2018, for instance, Goines and his partner, Steven Bryant—both of whom face state and federal charges in connection with the operation that killed Tuttle and Nicholas the following year—participated in the raid of a “suspected drug house.” Andrew Hebert was arrested by the police, who claimed they saw him sell drugs from outside of his house and took $11,000.

Hebert was the victim of a bogus case.’s unreliability. His lawyer was told by them that the “circumstances of this case affected credibility material witnesses”. Hebert didn’t get the money.

Bryant also took $2,465 and Christopher White from White’s vehicle in 2018 with the help of his co-accused. They claimed they saw him “sell crack cocaine outside a barber shop.” Bryant’s involvement was enough to get the charges dropped, although the money was still retained by the authorities.

Goines, his associates and others searched for a house that was based on the purchase of crack cocaine in 2016. Andre Thomas also was seized, but he never recovered it.

A spokesperson for Harris County District Attorney’s Office said that they are reviewing multiple cases related to Squad 15 in order to find out if there is any assets that need to be returned to the community. Chronicle. But  they are under no obligation to return anything, because the rules for civil asset forfeitures are much looser than the rules that apply to criminal cases.

The police usually need only probable cause for the owner to believe that it has been involved in criminal activity, to take property under civil forfeiture law. The government doesn’t have to accuse the owner of a crime or convict him. If the owner fails to contest forfeiture in court (which often costs more than the property’s value), a vague allegation that there is a criminal connection is sufficient to retain the loot.

The property seized by the prosecution was returned to Goines or at least one Goines victim. This is the ChronicleOtis Mallet claims they silently returned $1668 to Otis Mallet. Goines was charged with crack cocaine possession in 2008. Mallet insisted that Goines invented crack, the reason for Goines being arrested. That would fit with later revelations about Goines’ fabrication. Mallet had already served the two-year term of an eight year sentence and was now free.

Although it would have been clearly unjust to keep Mallet’s money, it would also have been legal. Except for states where a criminal conviction is required to forfeit property, it’s not a barrier to confiscating Mallet’s assets.

Texas’s Supreme Court emphasized that distinction in 2016. It ruled that Chapter 59 is a Texas state law which authorizes “forfeiture” of contraband, and that exclusionary rules that prohibit illegally obtained evidence from being admitted to civil proceedings does not apply. After police discovered drugs in Herrera’s car, Herrera was taken into custody. Herrera said that because Herrera was not under reasonable suspicion, the police searched Herrera and the drug evidence they discovered should not be taken as proof of forfeiture.

Both the trial court and appeals court were in agreement. However, the Texas Supreme Court ruled against them. They stated “an illegal seizure” of evidence doesn’t “require exclusion” in a Chapter 59 civil forfeiture proceeding. If the property owner challenges the forfeiture, drugs that were found during illegal searches based on Goines lies can still be used as a basis for the confiscation and sale of any cash.

These seizures were highlighted in the ChronicleHarris County takes a very small amount from the legalized larceny system. Last year, the Institute for Justice filed a state lawsuit challenging the county’s forfeiture practices. The lead defendant is the Harris County District Attorney’s Office—the same agency that is trying to assess and ameliorate the damage done by Goines and his cronies.

Ameal and Jordan Woods, a couple from Mississippi, are the lead plaintiffs in this proposed class action. They were stopped by sheriff’s officers on Interstate 10 in May 2019 after being raped. Woods was with Davis on the way to Houston. Woods intended to buy a tractor, trailer and other equipment for his trucking business. Woods wasn’t cited, even though deputies claimed they stopped Woods and Davis because they were following too closely another vehicle. The cops instead took the couple’s savings.

A forfeiture petition was filed by the district attorney’s office in August. Woods, Davis and the district attorney’s office did not notify them of the pending case until last August. This was 27 months after the seizure.

According to the Institute for Justice lawsuit, all of the money Woods and Davis were carrying was obtained legally. Woods saved $22,800 for the largest part, which was $22,800. After his purchase of a tractor-trailer, he borrowed $6,500 from his spouse and $13,000 to his niece. He plans to repay them.

A forfeiture petition stated that a drug-detecting canine alerted the authorities to the amount of money. This means that the alleged dog inspection was not conducted during the stop. After the deputies already had seized the cash, supposedly based on probable cause to believe it was related to illegal activity. Research has found that as much as 90 percent of U.S. currency carries traces of cocaine, which therefore hardly counts as evidence that the current owner is involved in drug dealing.

The lawsuit states that “what happened to Ameal, Jordan and other property owners in Harris County routinely happens.” The Institute for Justice reviewed 113 civil forfeiture requests filed by county prosecutors between 2016 and 2017 and found that they were all “based upon a form affirmation written by an officer not present at the seizure time or place.” Ninety nine of the affidavits contained identical or similar language, stating that a K-9 Unit responded positively to the smell of drugs when the property was presented. The officer supporting the petition to forfeit the money seized by Woods and Davis wrote eighty of these affidavits. Additionally, 92 was written “involving a dog alert” that allegedly came after property had been seized.

Harris County’s Racket is alleged to be in violation of the state constitution. It includes seizures that aren’t based upon probable cause. Property owners don’t get a prompt hearing after seizure.

This process is so daunting and burdensome that 60 percent of property owners give up without a fight. This works in the favor of local law enforcement agencies. According to the Institute for Justice, Harris County prosecutors increased their budgets with civil forfeiture by $7.7million between 2018-2020. During the same period, “law enforcement agencies in Harris County added $15.9 million to their budgets,” and “more than $7.5 million of that money was used to pay salaries and overtime to police officers—the same officers who make decisions about whether to seize property.”

Kim Ogg is the Harris County District attorney and she wants credit for investigating Goines’ blatantly corrupt behavior. Her office is not without fault for falsely accusing defendants and is now eager to engage in money grabs which victimize innocent people.