07/05/21 St. John "SinJin" Barned Smith

St. John "SinJin" Barned Smith is a Houston Chronicle reporter with a focus on the criminal justice system. The Harding Street fiasco is a main topic + Abolitionists Moment for Houston

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Monday, July 5, 2021
Guest: 
St. John "SinJin" Barned Smith
Organization: 
Houston Chronicle
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DEAN BECKER: (00:00)
I am Dean Becker. Your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud misdirection and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches Barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent, US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is cultural baggage.

DEAN BECKER: (00:29)
Hi folks. I am Dean Becker, the Reverend most. high. , Welcome to this edition of cultural baggage today from the fourth largest city in the nation's major newspaper, the Houston Chronicle we have with us today, a reporter St. John, otherwise known as Sinjin Barned Smith.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (00:51)
Hey, thanks for having me on.

DEAN BECKER: (00:54)
Thank you for, for joining us now? Uh, SinJin, I, um, I don't know. I, I look at it this way that, uh, the major media, uh, help to build the drug war a hundred years ago and they escalated over the following 50 or 60, 80 years, but they're now starting to taper off and move in a, uh, a different direction. Would you go along with that? Um, that assumption,

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (01:21)
Let me very clear since I am like a mainstream reporter. I'm not gonna like, uh, offer up, uh, personal opinions or anything like that related to, um, like the drug war or, uh, you know, whether or not good or bad or anything like that. Um, uh, yeah, obviously, uh, over the decades, there was a lot of reporting by major papers. Um, you know, about the war on drugs and on government policy. Um, and I think, uh, you know, yeah, it's probably accurate to say that, uh, coverage, uh, propelled some of that. I don't think that would be a controversial statement. Um, I would agree

DEAN BECKER: (02:16)
Looking at it this way. I mean, you guys have the, you, you do this, tell both sides of the story, that's what you do in the Chronicle. That's what most of mainstream media does and, and don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to pin you down. I'm, I'm glad you're with me and willing to talk about this, but the fact is from my perspective, you know,

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (02:38)
I just want to throw that out there. I just want to throw that out there because like one time I went on the prison show and got asked about the death penalty and it's like, that is so far beyond the purview of what I like I can talk about in any, you know, like I can't just because of my job, I can't talk about my personal feelings, for example, in that case about the death penalty. Um, you know, since, you know, I cover criminal justice and I deal with police officers and, you know, praising people and whatnot. Um, sure. And so that's, that's the only reason I'm not totally happy. I'm totally happy to talk about, you know, uh, the case and, you know, some of the issues brought up, let me,

DEAN BECKER: (03:22)
Let me finish summarizing this. I'm not trying to pin you down. I'm just trying to make a point that over the decades, there was two sides to this story. And one side of that story is starting to lose its luster. And I'll just stop there. You don't

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (03:36)
Have to. I think, I think, I think that's, I think that's absolutely true. I think if you were to look in Harris county and elsewhere across the country, there a big shift, obviously in marijuana consumption and decriminalization or outright legalization of marijuana, um, I think there's a real, uh, um, what's the word I sort of retrospective or re-examination um, about the damage that some of these, uh, low level drug offenses can have or, uh, the, the, the, the, the worthwhileness or worthiness of, of throwing the book at a, uh, petty drug user, or, I mean, I don't mean that the person is, I mean, saying like, you know, throwing a book at someone who is a user versus a dealer, you know, I think there's obviously been a lot of reconsideration about like, is that the best law enforcement strategy or the best, you know, health strategy dealing with that stuff. And then of course, obviously, you know, there's everything with, you know, Chris, you know, how much of the, um, you know, the, you know, overdose crisis has been fueled by just like outright prescription drugs and, you know, um, opioids, you know, all of that stuff from Patrick Radden Keefe and the Sackler family, um,

DEAN BECKER: (05:01)
Ugly, a result of, of they're putting forward that quote new drugs, supposedly safer than heroin. Now, a story that I really want us to dig into you, you published it now, it's going on, I guess a couple of weeks ago, Harris county grand jury issues, two final indictments against Houston narcotics officers. And for those who out there who do not know, we're talking about the Harding street bust, which made national, if not international news for it's, uh, just brazen and weird, uh, outcome. Um, but let's, let's talk about that story of the two final indictments. What were they for, sir?

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (05:40)
Um, uh, so, uh, can I just give a very brief summary of the Harding street storyy, please? Okay. So this is story I've been covering for the last two years and change, and basically in January, um, of 19, um, police officers raided a house in south Houston on Harding street. So it's called the Harding street scandal, and they busted in his house, a firefighter ups, um, uh, the two homeowners and their dog get killed. Uh, four Houston police officers get wounded by gunfire and a fifth blows out his knee. Um, uh, you know, the initial story was that this was this craven den of, uh, heroin dealers. Um, but, uh, soon it became pretty apparent that the lead agent behind the operation had lied about, uh, or police said he lied about buying drugs at the home. Um, and so like the entire basis for the operation, which had these disastrous results for both police.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (06:48)
I mean, one, these police officers is paralyzed from the neck down, um, and, uh, the homeowners, um, was all based on a why, so fruit of the poison tree. Um, so, you know, it's, it's in sorry, as the story progressed. And as the, these, you know, these revelations led to investigations by the police department and the prosecutor's office, um, the FBI, uh, the lead agent, this guy, Gerald Goines, he got charged in federal court, um, with, uh, violating the couple civil rights. Um, and there were also a you know, slew of other revelations that he had sort of been sleeping, having sex with a confidential informant, um, uh, that he was like routinely lying about confidential drug buys, uh, or, you know, uh, undercover drug buys, um, or his, his operations with his confidential informants. And then the DA's office basically said they had to re-examine, you know, 12 years of his past cases, as well as, uh, potentially overturned some convictions.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (07:59)
Um, and then they also, um, a year afterwards charged the state da charged him with murder. Um, and now a grand total of like 12 officers have been charged. But most of them just to be real clear, have been charged with, um, lying about overtime or trying to engage in a criminal scheme to enrich themselves, uh, through faking overtime pay, or, you know, how many, how many hours they worked so that they could accrue more overtime. So these last two indictments were, uh, sort of some of those charges against the two officers who are also charged with murder in this case, Gerald Goins and flea big egos. So, um, essentially these charges that just came out were very similar to charges that had, um, previously come out against other narcotics officers about these overtime, uh, lies or these overtime allegations. So, so, and then the da said, this wraps up their probe into squad 15 and the associated officers who participated in the raid

DEAN BECKER: (09:18)
Now, uh, I'm, you don't have to comment to this. This is, this is my thought that the fact that they went back 12 years, why didn't they go back 13? Why didn't they go back through the whole career of these people? What was the

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (09:32)
Can actually answer that? So what happened was after, after this scandal blew up, um, a man named Otis mallet, um, he had filed for, um, a post-conviction rate saying he'd been wrongly convicted and that, um, he had a very good attorney and he had a very, who had a very good private investigator, and they were able to show using, um, court records and contact centers. So informant payment, versus what going centered his offense report, they were able to show these really big discrepancies, which showed that, like, this couldn't happen the way going set it did. Um, and so that guy got his conviction overturned and he was declared actually innocent mean, and he had been charged or he had been sentenced to eight years in prison. I think, um, his brother had also been sentenced in the same deal and both, both of them were, uh, declared actually innocent.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (10:31)
And so, so essentially the, the DA's office said, okay, we know this Harding street raid smells really fishy. And we know that, um, in 2008 Goins did something, which we now believe was a lie. So we're going to treat the entire case, um, the entire time period between 2008 and 2019 as questionable. And we're going to assign a presumption that he probably lied. That's where that's where that 12 year period comes from. It ends up being about between him and his partner and, uh, other officers, um, they said they had to review something like 14,000 cases, but, um, you know, that does not by any means mean that they're going to be 14,000 convictions overturned, you know, so far it's been a total of four. Yeah. Yeah. Um, but to your point, there's another defendant who was arrested and convicted in 1991. And he also recently filed a post-conviction read. And so if that were to happen and the DA's office went along with it, that would mean that they would essentially end up thinking they would essentially extend that presumption. That I was just talking all the way back to 1991, which was, I mean, virtually Goines his entire career in narcotics except for the first couple of years. So that, I mean, that would be a pretty big deal. Sure.

DEAN BECKER: (12:06)
Thank you for that. Again, folks, we're speaking with, uh, uh, St. John Sinjin, uh, Barned Smith. He's a reporter with the Houston Chronicle now sends you look, you know, I'm just gonna say this. You don't have to glom onto it at all, but since 1969, when I had narcotics officers kick in my door six times without a warrant, uh, planting drugs on us, threatening us with death, et cetera. I know this has been going on. I have friends who can verify this has been going on. It's not just squad 15, and it's not just since 1991 or 93, the drug war is corrupt. It corrupts, uh, uh, judges, uh, cops, uh, urine testers. Um, but the point, I guess, I want to get to send you in is that the drug war is corrupt. Uh, it can be, the corruption can be found in every aspect of it, uh, around the country. It's not just in our squad 15, your response to that thought, sir.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (13:06)
Um, well, I guess what I would say is I think that in Houston, the, um, this whole scandal has really caused a lot of reexamination here about, um, HPDs, um, practices. Um, you know, you mentioned that you were a victim of a no-knock raid, several no-knock raids. Um, one thing it forced chief Acevedo to do was try to bring some more, uh, limits around those sorts of operations and he effectively banned them. So that, that doesn't happen anymore, or it's not supposed to, um, it, uh, he also forced, um, police officers to wear body cameras, uh, uh, undercover officers, other patrol officers were already wearing, but like a big issue here is there's a big question about what actually happened because none of these narcotics officers were wearing body cameras, um, you know, tactical reasons. We, you know, they're all undercover. We can't have their faces on video, blah, blah, blah. Um, and so now when, when you're running warrants and they're doing rates, they have to wear body cameras, um, you know, uh, to your point about, or your statement saying the drug wars corrupt, uh, I, you know, I'm not, I'm not really gonna go there, I think. Um, but I do think we have seen, you know,

DEAN BECKER: (14:39)
Yeah, I'm just sorry. I'm not sure that's okay. Uh, and again, I do, I just, the fact of the matter is you see the stories every day in your paper and newspapers and broadcast all around the country. Somebody is corrupt in the drug war every day of the week, somewhere in these United States. I know that

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (14:57)
I will say what I will say is that I think the, the Harding street scandal brought a lot more scrutiny into the Houston police department in the way it handles these sort of undercover police operations. Um, and it really stripped away some of that veneer, um, and raised a whole lot of questions about why are these things happening this way? Does that make sense? Um, you know, is the, you know, value of getting a bag of dope, uh, worth, uh, busting in someone's home and putting yourself, uh, you know, you or your fellow officers, or some random Houstonian who very well could be the wrong person, you know, in, uh, danger, cause there's such volatile operation. I mean, I talked to a mom of one man who wasn't even a target. He got shot in the stomach, he lost all of his fingers and, uh, all that, well, hold on, you lost, he lost like six of his fingers and toes, uh, because he got, he got shot in the stomach and then he had a blood infection. And, um, you know, I talked to another woman, she had police busting or her house, you know, and it was the house next door that they, you know, the, the suspect had talked to another man, um, living in a very poor part of town, um, you know, and, and they had raided his house and, you know, uh, he was totally traumatized by it. Um, so, you know, I think it has really forced, uh, you know, some thought on the real harms that those enforcement actions can have.

DEAN BECKER: (16:47)
Sure. No, thank you for your response. I do appreciate it again. Uh, since I, um, the back in 69, uh, as I told you, we got the door kicked in six times, but it was a few years later that I learned, uh, what had led to that situation. And it was the fact that some of the neighborhood girls were coming to our house in the evenings, and some things went on and the local garden, um, club bribe these cops to come to our house, to kick in the door, to discourage us, to get us out of their neighborhood. And it, it brings to mind another story of yours, woman who lied and nine 11 calls about Harding street neighbors sentenced to 40 months in federal prison, because as we were in essence swatted back in 69, by those neighbors, this lady swatted that the Harding street family, did she not?

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (17:43)
Yeah. That's and the judge either the judge or the, the, the, um, prosecutor used that exact phrase. Um, but yeah, this was a woman who had a beef with Regina, Nicholas, um, uh, you know, was in herself in the throws of what she said was in the throws of drug addiction and alcohol use. Um, and she called police said that her daughter was in the house. She doesn't have a daughter who was just a straight up lie. Um, you know, uh, and she, um, kept calling and she said they had like a machine gun. They didn't have a machine gun. She said they were heroin dealers. There was no evidence, there were heroin dealers and she just sort of escalated. And so that brought police out to her house that was on January 8th, 2019, um, in a few days. Well, and so, um, two patrol officers responded to the house.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (18:40)
Um, didn't find anything, didn't find any basis for anything. Um, but one of them was in a relationship with the narcotics Lieutenant and that officer told the Lieutenant, Hey, like you should check this out. And so that Lieutenant talked to Gerald Goines and said, Hey, go check this house out. And that is what sort of a chain of events, which led to police kicking in the door, uh, three weeks later. And so, yeah, I mean, it was absolutely, um, absolutely a case of, you know, swatting by proxy or whatever. Um, uh, you know, which, and the judge basically said, like you wanted something bad to happen to these people. Um, and, uh, yeah, I don't, I, I'm not really sure. 40 months in federal prison. Um, that's nothing that, that, that's a significant sentence for someone, uh, you know, mouthing off in a nine 11 call, uh, and trying to get her neighbor in trouble.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (19:41)
Um, you know, that, that was the first, that was the first sentencing of anyone involved in this case. So the, you know, her, the, uh, the Gerald points, his partner, Steven Bryant, he's set to go to, to be sentenced in August and, um, fully big egos, who is one of the people who, um, he, he fired the shots that killed, um, Dennis Tuttle. Um, he's set for trial in September. So we're, we're rapidly coming up on, you know, we're going to be having a lot of these prosecutions as, as, uh, we get into late summer and fall. And so that should also be pretty significant.

DEAN BECKER: (20:25)
Okay. Again, folks we're speaking with sent Barned Smith with the Houston Chronicle, uh, I, I'm not accusing the judge of being corrupt, but I'm accusing the process of being sloppy. I'm accusing the process of being carte blocked. I'm, uh, I'm accusing this of being just so easy to set these people up for swatting to go on for the judge to approve the search warrant for this raid to occur. It's the wheels are greased too quickly, too fast.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (20:55)
I think that's definitely, that is definitely something that, um, you know, uh, that is definitely a criticism that was raised, um, after, uh, the Harding tree raid, um, because it became clear that these narcotics officers were seeking all of their warrants from usually from municipal court judges here in Houston. Um, basically like, you know, unelected judges, um, you know, I think all, but a couple of them were from, you know, district district judges. And so one of the things after we raised that issue in our reporting, um, the, um, police, uh, chief said that from now on, it would have to go before a district judge. Um, and yeah, it raised a lot of questions about, um, the what's the word I'm looking for. It's like the, uh, you know, in those situations, there's nobody to advocate for the target of those search warrants and police have to just, or, or judges just have to trust the word of the police officer.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (22:14)
Okay. So there's definitely, um, people definitely kind of a question that, you know, were, you know, because yeah, it was, it was clear from these that, you know, uh, Gerald Goines would, uh, seek these search warrants, say that he'd seen a gun or sci had seen a gun, you know, in like about a hundred search warrants that we reviewed. And then only in about four or five, did he ever recover a gun? So, you know, it's sort of, uh, you know, but you know, if police officer said he saw a gun, see, I said he saw a gun. Yeah. Go do a no-knock. And I think that was another reason why, um, you know, uh, the police department, um, uh, banned no docks in almost all cases, you know, because it, it showed what can happen when one of these really volatile situation, you know, operations goes wrong. Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: (23:14)
May justice prevail, please? Uh, all right, now I'll send you the, I guess my final question is we have the trial. Um, we, we will hopefully learn who shot, who, I guess what I understand is that there were many bullets fired through the walls, different directions, crossfire that made maybe the police officers wounded one another through the walls. I don't know that we understand who did what at this point.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (23:45)
So, um, this is another point of serious contention between the police department and the [inaudible] of, um, the Tuttle family and their attorneys. So total family, or, uh, Regina Nicholas. So the two victims were Dennis tidal energy, Jude, Regina, Nicholas, Dennis, and Reggie, and their dog. Um, and so, uh, Regina Nicholas's, family's retains turning, and Mike Doyle is a very sharp guy. Uh, he has been, uh, going after, uh, you know, he's been quite Dogged in his, uh, efforts. And so one of the things he did is he hired an outside forensics expert to try to look at the scene and come to his own sort of like an independent autopsy, like your independent forensics examination. And he, that guy, um, concluded that police officers had shot through a wall. Hadn't really been able to see what they were looking at. Um, and yeah, like, you know, advocates for the victims sort of ins have insinuated or suggested that this was a case of friendly fire, that police officers going through the stack, uh, going through the door, they, you know, ended up shooting each other.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (25:03)
Um, uh, and they sort of suggest that because Dennis Tuttle had a revolver and, you know, he's, this had like wound on his hand or something and he couldn't, he couldn't have shot these people. Um, uh, the police department has a completely different version of events. They say that, um, you know, there was no friendly fire. These people came through the door and, you know, sort of what they call the fatal funnel, you know? So Dennis Tuttle is standing on the other side with his revolver. Bam, bam, bam, bam. Um, it's four officers. Um, uh, I don't know what the truth is. I've requested the ballistics report. Uh, I'm at receivable six report, and it's probably not going to come out until a trial for either fully big egos or, uh, Charles Boines. Um, but I would, I would be very hesitant. I wouldn't, I would not want if I was anyone watching this, I would not want to be making any conclusions about what actually happened in there. Um, just because these two sides are in completely different universes about what happened. Yeah. I'd much rather wait until I could see what documentation is available.

DEAN BECKER: (26:28)
All right. Um, well, I appreciate, uh, what clarity you've been able to bring there. Uh Sinjin uh, and, and for, you know, putting up with some of my questions that, uh, I don't mind at all, it's fine. Aren't, aren't, aren't ready to be addressed as yet. Now let's, let's talk about this one last thing, and that is the city of Houston. I feel that we maybe have rounded a corner, um, that, uh, we are seeing our own drug war in a new light, because I, I hope that is true because, um, I don't know how long you've been a Houstonian, but, uh, 20 years ago, when I started, we were the Gulag filling station of this planet. We were filling jails every night. We were loading them in buses and shipping them to Louisiana every morning. I don't know. I guess I'm just preaching here again. I'll let me wrap it up. Well, folks, once again, we've been speaking with MREs, uh, St. John, otherwise known as Sinjin Barnett Smith. He's a reporter with a Houston Chronicle and a good reporter in my eyes. Thank you for joining us.

SIN-JIN BARNED SMITH: (27:36)
Yeah, it's my pleasure. Thanks so much, man.

DEAN BECKER: (27:40)
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the abolitionists moment. Prohibition is an awful flop. Well, you like it can't stop. What it's meant to stop. We like it. It's left a trail of graft and slime. It don't prohibit worth a dime. It's spelled our land with vice and crime. Nevertheless, we're for it. Franklin Adams, 1931 through a willing or silent embrace of drug war. We are ensuring more death disease, crime, and addiction. Some have prospered from a policy of drug prohibition, and dare not allow their stance taken to be examined in a new light, but for the rest, ignorance and superstition will eventually be forgiven. But what Houston has done in the name of drug war will never be forgotten. Please visit and prohibition.org, do it for the children. Thank you

DEAN BECKER: (28:49)
For thank you, SinJen, please do visit www.endprohibition.org. And as always, I remind you, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.