Opinion writer

The scandal over a fatal drug raid earlier this year in Houston appears to be growing. We know that the police lied to obtain a search warrant for the January raid that left two people dead. The cops alleged that the couple were selling heroin out of the house. There was no heroin. The officer who led the investigation has since left the Houston Police Department, and prosecutors have dismissed dozens of charges from previous cases in which he was involved.

Now, a crime-scene investigation by specialists hired by the family of the couple killed in the raid has raised even more questions. From the Houston Chronicle:

A four-day independent forensics review at 7815 Harding Street found a cache of evidence left behind by the city’s crime scene teams after a botched drug raid at the home left dead a couple suspected of selling drugs.

Hired by the relatives of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle, the new forensics team found no signs the pair fired shots at police — and plenty of signs that previous investigators overlooked dozens of pieces of potential evidence in what one expert called a “sloppy” investigation. ...

Though police said they started shooting when the dog lunged as they came through the door, Maloney’s forensics team found that the dog was shot and killed at the edge of the dining room, 15 feet from the front door. Authorities never picked up the shotgun shell when they collected evidence.

And police said that Tuttle started firing at them, but Maloney’s team did not find clear evidence of that.

“The initial bullet trajectories appear to be somewhat contradictory,” said Louisiana-based attorney Chuck Bourque, who is also representing the Nicholas family. “We see no evidence that anybody inside the house was firing toward the door.”

Some of the bullet holes outside the house appeared at least a foot from the door, a fact that Doyle flagged as troubling.

“You can’t see into the house from there,” he said, “you’re firing into the house through a wall.”

Now we’re entering new territory. This is no longer just about the narcotics officers. We now have to ask if the investigating officers and crime-scene technicians are implicated, too.

When the Tuttle and Nicholas families finally went inside for the first time in mid-April, what they found was a mess. Bullet holes pierced a timer above the stove, and dog food bags, soda cans and clothes littered the house.

But, it appears, it wasn’t until Maloney and his team went in on Friday that anyone systematically went through everything. Maloney’s investigators tested every dark stain and speckle for blood, both human and animal. They dug bullets out of the walls, and measured the holes left behind. They mapped out trajectories, and searched for shrapnel.

“Our goal is through the bloodstain and bullet trajectory testing to be able to tell where everyone was standing when the shots were fired,” he said. ...

“I can’t explain why all that was left — that sounds like something only the Houston Police Department and investigators can answer,” said former Houston Police Chief Charles A. McClelland. “If that evidence is connected to that shooting scene, I’d certainly be asking questions.”

Indeed, the Houston Forensic Science Center generally has a good reputation. After a series of scandals involving crime labs under the auspices of Houston law enforcement agencies over the years, the lab was set up as independent body that’s supposed to be free of police influence, and one that goes to great lengths to guard against bias in its analysis.

So this is pretty hard to fathom. The most damning explanation is that the investigators were covering for the cops. A slightly less damning, but still pretty bad, explanation is that the investigators simply took the cops’ word about what happened and thus saw no need to carefully inspect the crime scene. The least damning explanation is that the cops got no special treatment at all. But that would mean that this is the way crime-scene investigators handle all homicide investigations. You know you’ve been roped into a scandal when the most flattering explanation for your behavior is that you aren’t corrupt, you’re merely incompetent.

Read more:

Radley Balko: A fatal Houston drug raid is a familiar story of needless violence, death and destruction

Radley Balko: Here are 20 criminal-justice and civil liberties questions for the 2020 contenders

Charles Lane and Keith Humphreys: Black imprisonment rates are down. It’s important to know why.

Matthew Charles: I was released under the First Step Act. Here’s what Congress should do next.