No-knock warrants are considered a highly intrusive and dangerous form of policing. The dangers of no-knock warrants are the topic of a new podcast from the Washington Post, called “Broken Doors.”
One of the most high-profile instances of a no-knock warrant going terribly wrong resulted in the death of Breonna Taylor in Lewisville, Kentucky. Here in Texas, a 2019 no-knock warrant in Houston left two homeowners dead, five police officers injured and one officer indicted on murder charges. In Killeen in 2014, a man was accused of killing a police officer during a no-knock raid at his home. That story is told in “Broken Doors.” Nicole Dungca is an investigative reporter for the Washington Post and one of the producers of the podcast. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: What made you and your co-producer, Jenn Abelson decide this is an issue worthy of this sort of exploration?
Nicole Dungca: Jenn Abelson and I were reporting on police accountability in 2020. As you know, there was a lot of talk about racial injustice and police brutality at that time. There were protests all over the country. And so we were digging into that topic. And one police killing that really stood out, as everybody knows, is Breonna Taylor’s because she was killed in her own home and the police were looking for drugs in her home, but did not find them. And we were just interested in this idea about what kind of warrant allowed the police to basically go into her home. And we found out that they had used no-knock warrants.
These are warrants that have become more of a discussion after Breonna Taylor’s death. They essentially allow police to force their way into your home without any warning. They often use a battering ram basically to break into somebody’s house. And so we were really just struck by the fact that this is an incredibly intrusive, and can be a pretty dangerous form of policing. And we wanted to know how often were these warrants being used? How often did they lead to fatal shootings? And who are the kinds of people who are affected by these kinds of raids?
I know your reporting included that 2014 no-knock raid on the home of the Killeen resident Marvin Guy – Guy’s in prison for the murder of a police officer during that raid. And as I understand, it could still face the death penalty. Perhaps we should listen in on part of the podcast that talks about what happened during the no-knock raid at Guy’s home.
“Broken Doors Podcast“: Police went to his apartment thinking they were going to find drugs. The SWAT team shattered his bedroom window with a metal pole and hurled a battering ram into his front door while he was sleeping. Marvin says he had no idea it was the police. So he picked up a gun.
Marvin Guy: The window busted out and I turned. And fired out the window. And so having no idea what the problem is, you know, thinking that it was a robbery or somebody was trying to come out and kill us.
“Broken Doors”: And then officers unleashed a hail of bullets for Colleen. Officers were shot. One later died in a hospital when it was all over, police found no drugs inside Marvin’s home. Marvin claims that police accidentally shot the detective during the chaotic raid, but police say that Marvin killed the detective and he was charged with capital murder.
Texas Standard: Guy’s case isn’t the only Texas no-knock incident your podcast examines. There was the 2019 raid in Houston that I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation. Could you tell us how that went so badly wrong so quickly?
This one included a narcotics squad that forced their way into the home of Regina Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle. And police officers said that there was actually a shootout that happened at that home and it resulted in the shooting death of those two homeowners. But then four officers also being shot at the same time. And actually one of them is paralyzed from that raid. But it turned out that after Houston police started investigating the shooting, they allege that the officer who was requesting the warrant had actually lied about a confidential informant buying drugs from that home. And the officers also didn’t find the heroin that they were looking for.
There was an ensuing scandal. Other officers were also indicted for overtime fraud because there were questions about how often these police officers were actually being truthful on their affidavits for these kinds of search warrants, for these kinds of no-knock search warrants.
Just to be clear, you have to obtain that search warrant from a judge. Your team spoke with the judge who signed off on that no-knock warrant for that 2019 case. What did the judge have to say about his views on this policing tactic?
It was the first time that Judge Gordon Markham had actually spoken about this publicly. He retired about a month after that fatal raid. He was saying he’d often signed off on a lot of no-knocks. And he thought they were really important to protect officers. But when he saw what happened with this particular raid, it really made him rethink no-knock warrants as a whole, whether they actually were safe for officers, which is one of the reasons that you get when you ask law enforcement to defend these types of warrants.
We’ve seen police chiefs and others in law enforcement come out against no-knock warrants. In recent years. We’ve seen the conversation become more pitched, certainly nationwide. Do you have a sense that police departments are trying to move away from no-knock warrants or what’s your perception of what the status of no-knock warrants is right now nationwide?
I think you’re going to see a lot of debates about no-knock warrants. We have seen movement in some places, restricting no-knock warrants. There are more than two dozen states and cities that have enacted restrictions on these sorts of no-knock warrants. But then there are also places that receive a lot of pushback when lawmakers try to set any restrictions.
You do talk to law enforcement officers and they’ll often say, this is something we really need. This is something we need because it could keep us safer. We don’t want to give somebody extra time to grab their guns or to dispose of evidence. And those are the reasons that you might get a no-knock warrants. But then you hear from people who do deal with these – the National Tactical Officers Association, they’ve long been against deploying no-knock warrants as often as some squads do. And they say this is actually pretty dangerous in some situations and you need to be doing it pretty sparingly and only with people who have a lot of training. And so what we actually saw in our reporting is that, there were some narcotics squads, some officers that were using this, as the rule rather than the exception. And so there are a lot of questions there about whether this is the safest route for some officers to be deploying when they’re looking for things like drugs. And what we found were they were opting looking for smaller amounts of drugs.