(TMU) — On January 28, 2019, nine Houston Police Department narcotics officers and six patrol officers initiated a “no-knock raid,” resulting in the deaths of the two homeowners and their dog—Dennis Tuttle, Rhogena Nicholas, and Star—and left four officers wounded. Almost immediately, questions arose regarding the reason for the raid after it was revealed that an officer lied about an informant purchasing drugs from the home in order to obtain the no-knock warrant.
Now, six months after the shooting, local activists and the families of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas are fighting to clear the couples names and bring justice to the officers involved in the murder.
As news of the botched raid spread around the City of Houston, law enforcement quickly condemned the actions of the homeowners, calling them dirtbags, criminals, and drug dealers, claiming their neighbors feared them. At the same time, the Houston Police Department also praised the heroics of the officers, claiming that the officers shot the family dog Star because the animal launched at officers when they entered the home. The officers also claimed that Dennis Tuttle, a Navy veteran, ran into the living room and began firing at the officers while Rhogena attempted to grab an officer’s shotgun. Due to these actions, the Houston police were forced to defend themselves and kill the couple.
At least, that’s what the Houston Police Department initially claimed. However, that story quickly fell apart. Within weeks it was revealed the Sgt. Gerald Goines lied about having witnessed an informant buy black tar heroin from the couple on Harding St.
ABC News reported:
“That officer, identified in court papers as Gerald Goines, 54, was one of the four drug-team members shot in January when they raided a house where Goines claimed a confidential informant had made two purchases of black tar heroin.
But an affidavit filed in Harris County District Court on Thursday by Houston internal affairs detectives investigating the raid indicates the confidential informant Goines said conducted the drug buys on his instruction claims he never even went to the house.”
The police did not find heroin, but instead found two legally-owned shotguns and three rifles, a small amount of cannabis and a small amount of a white powder they believe to be either cocaine or the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Officer Goines claimed he observed a confidential informant go into the house and buy heroin, however this was revealed to be a lie upon questioning both the informant and Goines. Eventually detectives interviewed all of the informants who worked with Goines and “all denied making a buy for Goines from the residence located at 7815 Harding Street, and ever purchasing narcotics from Rhogena Nicholas or Dennis Tuttle.” Goines has since been allowed to retire while all of his previous cases are under review. He could potentially face criminal charges.
“Goines later retired under investigation amid accusations that he’d lied on the search warrant used to justify the raid. His partner Steven Bryant followed suit in mid-March, retiring under investigation as well.”
Despite the admission that at least one officer lied about the no-knock raid, HPD Chief Art Acevedo has not apologized to the Tuttle or the Nicholas families. Most of the major media repeated the story that these two people were dangerous criminals. Due to the silence from the City of Houston and the HPD, the family of Rhogena Nicholas hired a private forensic investigator to investigate the scene of the crime.
On Thursday July 25, family attorneys Charles Bourque and Mike Doyle held a press conference at Houston’s Buffalo Soldier Museum outlining the current results of the forensic investigation being carried out by former senior agent and forensic consultant for the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service Mike Maloney. In May Maloney spent four days exploring the house searching for unexamined evidence. At the press conference Doyle presented evidence which indicates the fatal shots which killed Rhogena Nicholas were fired through the wall from outside. This means the story told by the Houston police—that an officer shot Nicholas after seeing her attempt to grab another officers gun—is false. The officer who fired the shot that killed Rhogena Nicholas could not see into the family’s home.
The independent review also found two isolated bullets holes in the home which forensic tests indicate were shot into the wall from inches away. These bullet holes were more than four yards away from the scene of the alleged shootout between the Tuttles and law enforcement. Dolye and Bourque say these pieces of evidence and a video taken by a neighbor raise enough questions to warrant further investigation. The video taken by the neighbor documents two shots fired half an hour after the alleged gun battle took place. The attorneys filed a 22-page legal petition with a local state district judge seeking to question police officials under oath about the raid.
“Given the indications that the City’s story does not line up with the physical facts at the Harding Street Home,” Doyle wrote, “the Nicholas Family believes the Court has more than sufficient basis to order the depositions requested to investigate the wrongful death, civil rights, and other claims arising from the Harding Street Incident.”
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg told the Houston Chronicle that they appreciate any new information about the botched no-knock raid on Harding Street, but cautioned “everyone to wait for all the evidence to be brought forth before making a decision about what happened that day and who is responsible.” As Ogg continues her own investigation, she recently asked for $1.7 million to fund an additional 10 employees to help with the case. “The Harding Street case is huge and more complex than most other cases. From possible misconduct to the use of confidential informants, we must review everything and get it right. The public demands and deserves nothing less,” a statement from the DA’s office reads.
Although six months have passed since the shooting, Houstonians are not letting the incident pass unchallenged. A new activist coalition called We The People Organize has formed in response to the Tuttle raid and murder. The group recently held a rally and memorial for Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas at their home on Harding Street. The group is calling for transparency, for the officers involved to be fired and held accountable for the murders, and for a national end to no-knock raids.