Ed. Note: Greg Prickett is former police officer and supervisor who went to law school, hung out a shingle, and now practices criminal defense and family law in Fort Worth, Texas. While he was a police officer, he was a police firearms instructor, and routinely taught armed tactics to other officers.
In the early morning hours on April 14, 2016, Austin police SWAT executed a no-knock warrant on the residence of Peter and Lisa Harrell. Police had information that their 18-year-old son, Tyler, was a “major drug dealer” and was armed. I’m normally opposed to the use of SWAT to execute search warrants, but in this case it was justified.
When the police entered, they found only a small amount of marijuana, but Tyler, with a semi-automatic AK-47, shot one of the officers. Where the problem starts is the intimidation tactics used by the police during the trial.
Tyler had been involved in an incident in December of the previous year, when someone shot at him after demanding all drugs and money. He was at a friend’s home and managed to get the gun away from the robber. Tyler did not report the incident to the police, but his parents believe that others who were present reported it. They believe this was how the police learned of Tyler’s activities and why they started to gather evidence of his drug dealing.
Checks of the trash showed baggies with marijuana residue and an empty box for 7.62x39mm ammunition. So the SWAT team took the warrant, threw in a flash bang, and entered the $500,000 townhome. They were almost immediately engaged by rifle fire from the top of the stairs, and one officer, James Pittman, was wounded before Tyler realized that it was the police and stopped shooting. The search turned up only one ounce of marijuana.
Tyler said that he thought it was intruders breaking in, and I believe him. This is not the first time that this has happened. It happened in 2016 to Kenneth Probus. It happened in 2015 to Ray Rosas. It happened in 2014 to Henry McGee. Probus made a deal and got probation, Rosas was acquitted, and McGee was no-billed by the grand jury.
Tyler’s mother was shouting at him to stop, that it was the police, the police loudspeaker was announcing that fact, and a later test showed that the announcement could be clearly heard. But other shooters had gotten off, including both Rosas and McGee in Texas.
The Austin Police did not want that to happen, so when Tyler was tried for attempted capital murder, they packed the courtroom with on-the-clock officers who were wearing their police SWAT uniform. There were eighteen of them in total, in camouflage or dark green combat gear. And the judge, Karen Sage, allowed it, but had the defense arranged a similar demonstration, I can guarantee you that the judge would have blown a gasket. Judge Sage had a sign outside the courtroom prohibiting “protest buttons, T-shirts, hats, posters and cause-supporting slogans.” The uniforms were okay because it only said “Police” on the back of the uniform shirts.
I think that the jury made the correct decision here as to guilt, aside from the fact that only one ounce of weed was found at the residence. The prosecutor showed that Tyler was dealing drugs via photos and videos of drugs, money, and guns that Tyler had on social media and his phone. With the previous robbery attempt, the recent purchase of the AK, and the drug involvement, he doesn’t deserve to get a pass.
It’s not appropriate, however, for the police to intimidate the court or a jury. It’s neither appropriate for them to be in uniform nor for them to be on the clock. Character assassination, though oft-time practiced by police, is not acceptable.
 The 7.62×39 round is well-known to police as being used in both the SKS and AK family of semi-automatic rifles. It’s presence would tend to support the use of both SWAT and a no-knock warrant.
 Like most of the elected district judges in Texas, Judge Sage was a prosecutor before she ran for judicial office.