Dangerous, secret Texas police raids highlight problem of police militarization

The Galveston, Texas, city government is dealing with the fallout of a recent SWAT raid conducted by local police that ended in thousands of dollars of property damage against an innocent family based on a false accusation. This and other incidents in recent years have highlighted a serious problem with “no-knock raids” and SWAT tactics in which police conduct military-style attacks on residents in the dead of night or early morning, often with no civilian oversight or even knowledge.

Early morning Galveston raid ends in catastrophe

At 2 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 22, Erika Rios, her teenage son, her daughter and a family friend were awakened by the sound of the Galveston Police Department loudly yelling, “Come out with your hands up!”

After giving the order two times to the confused mother and children, a SWAT team shot wooden pellets into the house’s windows and doors. According to Galveston Daily News, the SWAT team shattered windows, bashed in a door, fired over 15 flash-bangs, ripped out wiring, and caused over $5,000 in property damage.

The teens were injured and all of the residents were forced out with their hands up. Rios and her son were even placed in handcuffs. Rios said of the ordeal, “We were just in a panic … When I was dragged out of the house, we weren’t told anything.”

The SWAT team was searching for a teenager who had been accused of committing a fatal shooting on Jan. 20. While the teen had visited the family a day before the raid, the Rios family’s attorney insists that the police were well aware the person they were searching for was no longer present.

Days later, police admitted that the person they had been searching for had been wrongly accused and all charges were dropped. Police had conducted a violent raid against the wrong home, looking for a person who had committed no crime and did not live there.

Galveston Chief of Police Doug Balli was placed on 10 days of paid administrative leave. The raid was so secretive that city officials, including the mayor, only learned about it from the newspaper five days later. The chief’s suspension was not based on the horrific act itself, but on the lack of communication from the police department.

Left: Galveston Police Chief Doug Balli. Right: Erika Rios, whose home was raided by Galveston police on Jan. 22, speaking at a press conference on Feb. 1. Liberation composite photo.

False information leads to the death of innocent Houston couple

The disastrous raid is similar to another raid in nearby Houston that ended in the killing of an innocent couple and two police officers in 2019, known as the “Harding Street raid.” Using what would later be revealed as false information about drugs, the Houston Police Department orchestrated a deadly SWAT raid on the home of 59-year-old Dennis Tuttle and his 58-year-old wife Rhogena Nichols.

Upon breaking into their home, the officers immediately shot the couples’ dog. When Tuttle tried to defend his home from this violent intrusion, police responded with overwhelming force, killing both Tuttle and Nichols. No heroin was ever found.

The Houston Police Department immediately spun a narrative of their own heroism in the face of the two people they killed. Then-Chief of Police Art Acevedo portrayed the Harding Street raid as a case in which heroic police officers were attacked by violent drug-dealing criminals.

Then-President of the Houston Police Officers Union Joe Grimaldi obscenely blamed the injuries of police on activists opposed to police brutality, delivering a thinly-veiled threat to activists: “If you’re the ones that are out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy, just know we’ve all got your numbers now, we’re going to be keeping track of all of y’all …”

The cops’ lies began to unravel within weeks once search warrants for HPD Officer Gerald Goines were accidentally posted to the Harris County District Clerk’s website. The warrants showed that Goines was being investigated for possibly lying about buying heroin from the Tuttles’ house. It was later discovered that Goines had been lying and tampering with evidence going back nearly two decades. The Harris County District Attorney’s office opened a review into 1,400 cases that Goines was involved in and a number of convictions were overturned.

One of the many people Goines presented evidence against was George Floyd, whose brutal killing by police in Minneapolis in 2020 sparked a rebellion against police racism that drew tens of millions into the streets. District Attorney Kim Ogg concluded that Goines likely lied in 2004 when he arrested Floyd on a minor drug offense for which Floyd went to jail.

Eleven officers were ultimately indicted for their part in the raid, and Goines is facing state and federal charges including murder in the second degree.

No-knock raids a repressive tool of the capitalist class

The recent Texas cases are just the tip of the iceberg of the many lives that have been destroyed by no-knock raids throughout the United States. No-knock raids and SWAT teams saw their first widespread use in the 1980s with the escalation of the so-called “war on drugs,” a brutal open-ended assault on the working class that one of Richard Nixon’s top advisors admitted was actually crafted as a war against Black people and the left.

Former NYPD Sergeant Joseph L. Giacalone claims that no-knock raids, which require a judge’s approval, are designed to make police officers more safe when they search people’s homes for drugs and weapons, and to prevent evidence from being destroyed. In reality, these raids could not be any less safe for the families living in the homes that are being targeted and ravaged in the dead of night.

Wearing full body armor and armed with assault weapons, teams of police in military formation, who often do not identify themselves, blast and force their way into homes based on often unreliable information. Immediately upon entry, they commonly use “flash-bang” grenades. These are officially designed to temporarily blind and deafen their targets, but in fact routinely kill people, especially children.

The violent nature of such raids and the lack of announcement of police presence prompts many people to defend themselves. That some people fight back against unknown assailants invading their home and bombarding them with grenades in the middle of the night is used as post-facto “justification” when the police kill residents.

Far from keeping anyone safe, no-knock raids are another brutal tactic in the state’s arsenal of repression. The terror that they inspire — that anyone’s home can be turned into a war zone at any point — is not incidental to the purpose of such raids. It is in fact entirely the point, and indicative of a larger capitalist system that treats working-class communities as enemy combatants.

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