Federal investigation of Harding Street raid could wind up with officers in prison

Friday, February 22, 2019
High-risk gamble welcoming feds to probe HPD
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The FBI is now investigating potential civil rights violations in the Harding Street drug raid. It could end up sending HPD officers to a federal prison.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston police Chief Art Acevedo says he's talked to the FBI from day one about the possibility of a civil rights investigation into the actions of his own officers in the Harding Street drug raid.

"We welcome that in the spirit of transparency," Acevedo said Wednesday.

But once they are in the front door of HPD, Acevedo cannot control where they look, who they talk to, or what they find.

ABC13 consulted with Ken Magidson, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, to explain this kind of civil rights investigation.

Magidson calls these "very serious matters."

"(HPD) should expect a very thorough investigation," he added.

The FBI announced it is investigating "allegations that a search warrant obtained by Houston police officers was based on false, fabricated information."

It follows the shocking news that details in the warrant used to bust in to the home on Harding Street contained possibly false information.

ABC13 reported Feb. 16 that a confidential informant who reportedly bought drugs at the home now claims they didn't. Search warrants days after the raid revealed the disturbing details.

Magidson tells ABC13, "The key question here is whether or not there was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment again protects individuals against an unreasonable search and seizure. If a person knows that they did not have probable cause and misleads a magistrate, to say that they had probable cause when in fact they didn't, that could be a federal civil rights violation."

U.S. Department of Justice statistics show dozens of officers are convicted every year for federal civil rights violations. There were 22 in 2018, according to the TRAC Project at Syracuse University.

Justice Department statistics show hundreds of convictions for official misconduct or violations under "color of law" from 2000 to 2007. More recent and complete statistics were not available by deadline.

Aside from the potential federal charges against the officers, the FBI will likely determine if there are any widespread practices within HPD, or a lack of proper supervision that could lead to issues like these.

If those are found, federal monitors can be installed at HPD to oversee department activity.

As an example, in the federal civil rights investigation following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, no charges were brought, but the DOJ insisted on wide-reaching change within the Ferguson Police Department.