Search Warrant Leads to Controlled Detonation of “Potentially Volatile Substances” in Houston Backyard

FEMA_-_5821_-_Photograph_by_Mike_Howard_taken_on_03-16-2002_in_Oregon.jpgFederal agents served search warrants on multiple residential properties in two Texas cities and two Michigan cities, all connected to a Houston family, in early October. They were reportedly responding to reports of allegedly suspicious chemical deliveries, although the FBI has provided only minimal information about the search, and the warrant remains sealed. Agents have not arrested anyone in connection with the raids, but they conducted several controlled detonations of a “potentially volatile substance” in the backyard of one of the Houston properties and in a remote Michigan location. The case demonstrates the extent of the powers granted to law enforcement with regard to laws involving possible explosives or toxic chemicals.

The FBI, possibly with other federal agencies, raided at least five properties on Friday, October 4, 2013. According to an anonymous law enforcement source quoted by the Houston Chronicle, they were searching for “chemicals that could be used in the manufacture of some type of gas.” Some of the agents participating in the raids wore Hazmat gear. Two of the properties are houses located in Houston, and another is a condominium unit in Bryan, Texas. The other properties are reportedly in Suttons Bay and Leland Township, Michigan. Local law enforcement confirmed the details of the raids, but could not comment on the warrant itself. A Houston woman is identified as an owner of all five properties, in some cases along with her husband. Sources quoted by the media have said that the woman’s son may be the subject of the investigation, although officials have not addressed this question.

Agents at one of the Houston houses set off at least two controlled explosions during the afternoon of October 4. A spokesperson for the FBI said that the purpose of the explosions were to dispose of a “potentially volatile substance” in the interest of the safety of both the public and the law enforcement officers on site. Agents also destroyed “volatile materials” allegedly taken from the properties in Michigan.

The warrant that authorized the October 4 raids remains under seal, and only a federal judge has the authority to un-seal it. No obligation to remove the seal exists until the government charges and arrests someone, and even then the government may be able to keep it sealed. So far, no charges have been filed in connection to the searches. Challenging the validity of the warrants would therefore prove difficult.

The exact statutory or regulatory authorization for the raid also remains unknown, but federal anti-terrorism laws grant broad powers to law enforcement to investigate matters related to explosives and other materials that could be used to make bombs or other weapons. The Houston Chronicle‘s anonymous source suggested that the chemicals were related to production of a “gas,” leading to speculation that the investigation related to a chemical weapon of some sort. For now, federal law enforcement agents are under no legal obligation to explain or disclose their investigation.

For over twenty years, board-certified criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has fought for the rights of defendants in west Texas. He draws on his experience as an FBI agent and a prosecutor to assist clients charged with alleged offenses at the state and federal level related to drugs, white collar crime, and other matters. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

More Blog Posts:

Marijuana Smell Not Enough to Justify Warrantless Entry into Home, According to Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, July 17, 2013
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Affirms Finding that Police Lacked Probable Cause to Search Backyard Without Warrant, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 24, 2013

Photo credit: By Mike Howard (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.