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Elderly woman says HPD raid has left her traumatized

August 10, 2018

It was just after midnight when 68-year-old Emily Barriere was awakened by pounding on the front door of her northeast Houston apartment.

“Police! Open up!” those outside her door shouted, she recalled Thursday. When she asked through the door what was going on, no one responded.

The mother and grandmother said she feared that the people were robbers or intruders posing as police. She said a prayer. After they threatened to bust down her door, she opened it to find five uniformed Houston police officers pointing guns at her.

At their request, she exited her apartment in the Hometown at Wayside assisted-living community, where she lives alone, wearing only her night clothes. Officers proceeded to search her apartment, but she said they failed to produce paperwork or a search warrant, claiming it was in digital form. It wasn’t until days later that she received an apology from police.

The incident on July 26 was not an “error,” said Houston Police Department spokesman Kese Smith, because Barriere’s apartment was listed as the last known address of a felon who was wanted at the time. Because police possessed a felony warrant, guns were drawn, the spokesman confirmed. He said he did not know the details of the warrant. Asked the name and age of the felon, Smith said he would need to check and see if he had been apprehended before identifying the individual.

The encounter has left Barriere feeling uncomfortable in the apartment where she has lived for seven months.

“I’ve been so traumatized,” Barriere said. “I will never ever forget this, because it upset my whole life.”

After the search was complete, Barriere said, officers told her to “have a nice night” but never offered an apology or access to counseling or medical care.

The HPD spokesperson said officers explained what they were going to do before entering the unit, and Barriere complied with their request. He said he hasn’t heard information from the officers regarding Barriere’s state of mind at the time of the search, although he said officers were under the impression that any issue was resolved by the time they left.

But one community activist says the department ought to be doing more after frightening a law-abiding citizen in her home.

“We believe that the Houston Police Department owes her a public apology, and a process must be set in place so that when this kind of thing happens, there’s outreach — there’s resolve,” said community activist Deric Muhammad, a frequent critic of police misconduct who appeared with Barriere at a news conference Thursday at her apartment. “And in this way we don’t worsen police-community relationships; we strive to make them better.”

Muhammad said such incidents don’t help foster trust between the black community and law enforcement.

“There’s too many questions unanswered, but I think because this is a black neighborhood…somebody somewhere thinks that it’s supposed to be normal for somebody to run up in your house with guns,” he said. “That ain’t normal, not even in this community.”

Larry Karson, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Houston-Downtown, agreed that police could have handled the situation more appropriately.

“For police officers, dealings like search warrants, arrests and jail are commonplace, but they forget that for some of the people they deal with it is very traumatic,” Karson said. “It seems that somewhere in their training they never effectively get across that point.”

He said officers should have anticipated the possibility of medical complications arising from any trauma that the senior endured as they prepared to search a unit at an assisted-living community. He said the department liaison should have contacted her promptly after the encounter, and that police should have provided a contact number and a way to get counseling or medical care before leaving her apartment.

“Basically the police made her a victim, and you aren’t supposed to be made a victim by the law enforcement you are protected by,” Karson said.

Law enforcement officials have previously apologized for seeming to make a victim of persons who weren’t doing wrong.

Last fall, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez paid a visit to a 21-year-old man who’d been shot in a public roadway during the chaotic days after Hurricane Harvey but found himself being grilled by responding officers. After Muhammad and another community activist voiced concerns that the man had never been interviewed by investigators, Gonzalez vowed to complete the investigation of the shooting.

In the days following Barriere’s encounter, she said, she contacted the department to try and lodge a complaint. She said she reached an HPD liaison, who personally apologized for her unease. In addressing the senior’s concern that officers might return to the address, the liaison advised Barriere to hang a note on her front door that said the felon whom officers were seeking did not live there anymore, Barriere recalled. Smith said he could not verify that this guidance had been provided.

Barriere’s daughter, Dominique, said she has feared for her mother’s safety in the complex, citing broken gates and building doors, and was now even more worried about her well-being. An employee at the assisted-living center said that it had plans to make those repairs.

Dominique Barriere said the family is now checking on he mother more frequently.

“I’m worried about her living here even more than I was before,” said the daughter, who is 44. “It’s not okay.”

Barriere said she has suffered emotional trauma from the incident and had to visit her doctor for high blood pressure. She said she has had a hard time trying to “calm down and accept” what occurred.

She said she would appreciate a public apology from Houston police and believes that a protocol should be put in place for civilians who endure similar encounters.

“Now I don’t have hate for the police,” Barriere said. “But I feel like… you come into a senior citizen’s home and disrespect that senior citizen that way, how would you feel?”

victoria.cheyne@chron.com

twitter.com/victoria_cheyne

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