Criminal Justice

Texas Lawmakers Look To Improve Police Transparency In Response To HPD Narcotics Audit

The announcement came after more officers were charged in connection with a fatal drug raid and the Houston Police Department released an audit of its narcotics division.

State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, speaks to press outside of 7815 Harding St. on July 2, 2020. Wu said the state legislature would draft legislation in response to an audit of the HPD narcotics division, which came under fire after the deadly Harding Street raid in 2019.

State lawmakers on Thursday announced they would prepare new police oversight legislation, one day after the release of an internal Houston Police Department audit of its own narcotics division in the wake of the deadly Harding Street raid.

State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said he is working with state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, to prepare legislation that would require any government agency to release audits and reports to the public and include other measures to ensure transparency.

"These are reports generated with public money about a public agency, they belong to the public," Wu said at a press conference with other area lawmakers and attorneys for the family of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle.

Both Nicholas and Tuttle were killed in a botched drug raid last year, and six former officers have been charged in connection with it, including one, Gerald Goines, with murder.

The news comes just one day after HPD tweeted out an internal audit detailing a slew of errors made by officers and supervisors in the department’s embattled narcotics division. The audit found 404 errors in 231 investigations involving Goines and former officer Steven Bryant alone. The audit also found hundreds of errors in two additional drug enforcement squads.

The audit was released in response to a series of stories published by the Houston Chronicle.

The legislators’ announcement also came a day after Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced new charges against Goines, Bryant, and four additional retired HPD personnel related to last year's Harding Street raid. Most of the retired officers are charged with lying on official documents.

State Rep. Bettencourt said in a statement posted on Twitter that he asked to see HPD's audit in March but didn't receive it until June 26.

Also on Twitter – along with posting the full audit report – Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said the DA's office asked them to withhold the audit as recently as last week, which the DA denied.

Wu called the HPD audit a "joke" and criticized Acevedo.

"It's just a cover for him to say, well, we did enough. We took care of it, it's fine,'" Wu said. "But in fact, the report tells us it's not fine. It doesn't say what they're going to do at the command level to fix this problem and prevent this from ever happening again."

Wu said that lawmakers would take in recommendations from the report and consult with law enforcement experts in drafting the legislation.

State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, said he is disappointed that it took so long for the Houston Police Department to release the audit.

"What we see on this internal audit, performed by the department investigating itself, is we just get a tiny little peak into the systemic issues that this department has," he said. "And it really points to the need for external oversight."

Additional reporting by Paul DeBenedetto. Read the HPD narcotics division audit below.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required

Share

Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

More Information