Drug War

'No One Will Hurt You,' a SWAT Officer Promised an Hour After Houston Cops Killed a Couple Falsely Accused of Selling Heroin

Evidence from the scene of the disastrous raid seems to contradict the official account.

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Evidence from the scene of the disastrous drug raid that killed a middle-aged couple in Houston on January 28 seems to contradict the official police version of what happened that day, according to an investigation commissioned by the couple's relatives. The no-knock raid at 7815 Harding Street, which was based on a fraudulent warrant application alleging that heroin was being sold at the house, discovered no evidence of drug dealing.

The Houston Police Department (HPD) said narcotics officers shot 58-year-old Rhogena Nicholas because she tried to take a shotgun from a wounded cop. But after inspecting the house for four days, a forensic expert hired by her family concluded that she "was fatally struck by a bullet from a weapon fired outside the Harding Street Home by a person shooting from a position where the shooter could not have seen Ms. Nicholas at the time she was fatally shot."

Michael Maloney, a retired supervisory special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, also found that "an unidentified person held a weapon against the inner dining room wall and fired 2 shots into [it] towards the kitchen." Those two shots may correspond to gunfire recorded on a neighbor's cellphone video at 5:02 p.m., 47 minutes after Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said the narcotics officers arrived at the house.

Acevedo said the first officer through the door entered "shortly before 5 o'clock," or "about 4:30," and was "charged immediately by a very large pit bull," which he killed with a shotgun. Yet Maloney found that the dog was killed near the dining room, 15 feet from the front door.

After the shotgun blast, Acevedo said, Nicholas' 59-year-old husband, Dennis Tuttle, "came from around the back" and "opened fire" with a .357 Magnum revolver. Police returned fire, and the shootout, during which four officers were struck by bullets, was over within minutes, according to the HPD. But that does not jibe with the two shots recorded at 5:02 p.m., assuming the raid started around 4:30 p.m., as Acevedo said. The holes in the dining room wall, which are 14 feet from where Tuttle fell, are consistent with .38- or .357-caliber ammunition fired very close to the wall, which suggests the rounds may have come from his revolver.

In the cellphone video, which was shot outside the house and was also obtained by state police investigating the incident, an officer can be heard saying "two suspects down" at 5:05 p.m. Nicholas and Tuttle were both pronounced dead at 5:15 p.m. Yet the amplified voice of a SWAT officer, ostensibly negotiating with the "suspects," can be heard on the cellphone video at 6:09 p.m. "Exit the front door with nothing in your hands and listen to the voice instructions," he says. "I guarantee that no one will hurt you."

Those revelations are described in a petition filed yesterday in Harris County Probate Court by Michael Doyle, an attorney who represents Nicholas' mother and brother. Doyle is seeking to depose Capt. Paul Follis, who was in charge of the HPD Narcotics Division at the time of the raid, and Lt. Marsha Todd, another supervisor, along with a designated representative of the city, in preparation for potential litigation. "Given the indications that the City's story does not line up with the physical facts at the Harding Street Home," the petition says, "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."

Among other things, Doyle wants to ask Follis and Todd about the "supervision and monitoring" of warrant applications and the use of confidential informants. Those are crucial issues in this case, since the raid that killed Tuttle and Nicholas seems to have been based on a "controlled buy" of "black-tar heroin" that never happened, carried out by a C.I. who does not exist.

According to Acevedo, Officer Gerald Goines lied when he applied for the warrant, and police have been unable to identify the supposed C.I. "The identity of CI's providing specific information about criminal activities…is required to be documented and readily accessible to police managers," the petition says. "HPD's managers knew from the beginning that there was no documented CI significant meeting record in its files supporting the assault on the Harding Street Home." Doyle notes that oversight practices that "allow officers such as Gerald Goines to simply make up CI's, or fabricate criminal activity used to justify warrants, would violate the Fourth Amendment."

Goines had a history of questionable testimony and affidavits. In February, KHOU, the CBS station in Houston, looked at 109 cases in which he was involved. "In every one of those cases in which he claimed confidential informants observed guns inside," it reported, "no weapons were ever recovered, according to evidence logs Goines filed with the court." In the Harding Street case, Goines likewise said his C.I. had seen a gun, a 9mm semi-automatic pistol, that was never found. The district attorney's office has dismissed a bunch of pending cases that Goines handled and is reviewing 1,400 more, along with 800 cases involving Officer Steven Bryant, whom Goines cited in his affidavit as verifying that the "brown powder substance" supposedly purchased from Tuttle was black-tar heroin.

The HPD completed its investigation of the raid in mid-May and handed over its findings to the Harris County District Attorney's Office, which is conducting its own investigation. In a sign of how much there is to be investigated, the office is seeking $1.7 million in funding to hire 10 additional employees to work on the probe. "The Harding Street case is huge and more complex than most other cases," a spokesman said. "From possible misconduct to the use of confidential informants, we must review everything and get it right. The public demands and deserves nothing less."

The FBI is also looking into the raid, and on Wednesday two officers who were involved in the early stages of the case testified before a federal grand jury. Those officers, according to Acevedo, responded to a January 8 call in which a woman reported that her daughter was using drugs inside the Harding Street house and described Tuttle and Nicholas as armed and dangerous drug dealers—a description contradicted by their neighbors, who told local news outlets they had never seen any suspicious activity at the house. Acevedo said the call led to the investigation in which Goines, who retired in March and may face criminal charges, fabricated evidence to justify the deadly raid.

According to the petition, Tuttle and Nicholas were taking "an afternoon nap" when the officers broke into their home and killed them. "The City deliberately chose to push out a worldwide story about the Harding Street Incident, based on the flimsiest grounds and even as it was simultaneously compiling more and more evidence internally that undercut its chosen narrative," the petition says. Acevedo "described a ferocious assault by both Rhogena and her husband on a 'hero,' Gerald Goines, while he led Narcotics Squad 15 into a well-known 'drug house'…Even while police command staff were insisting that the black tar heroin 'drug house' allegation justifying Drug Squad 15's assault on the Harding Street Home was true, HPD was simultaneously confirming internally that it was false."

The petition says the HPD never contacted Nicholas' family for information about her and her husband after the raid, refused to set the record straight after the initial portrayal of the couple was contradicted, and has denied them access to important evidence and records. "Our family's search for the truth of what happened to Rhogena continues," her brother, John Nicholas, said in a press release. "We're pursuing this on our own because the City of Houston is now fighting us. This followed silence from the police chief and mayor. Through our independent investigation, the family is committed to helping protect the community and other families from continuing to face terrible ordeals like this one."

[This post has been updated with additional details from Doyle's petition.]

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  1. Fuck the police.

    1. Amen, brother.

    2. IN this case fuck Acevedo, who is a typical Affirmative action hire and progressive turd. Houston Police for the most part are okay but have been run by a string of progressive nit wits.

      1. No need for the racist nonsense. Which “progressive” policies do you invoke when a poor/corrupt leader is white?

      2. No, the Houston Police are NOT OK, they’ve never been OK. I still have in my possession a Texas Monthly magazine from 1977 describing he lawless Houston Police. Randall Alan Webster, anyone?

      3. HPD is corrupt from the top down and has been for a long time. It doesn’t matter who the chief is or what color his skin is. I have personal experience as a victim of crime who then became a victim of their corruption because apparently victims who want them to do their jobs are a pain in the butt and have to be dealt with accordingly.

    3. By the way, I’m still waiting for the fake libertarians of Reason to mention the one that happened in South Bend, Indiana.

      1. I’m interested in hearing what happened in South Bend, IN. Please explain.

    4. Well said¡!

  2. Mike Maloney, a retired supervisory special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, also found that “an unidentified person held a weapon against the inner dining room wall and fired 2 shots into [it] towards the kitchen.” Those two shots may correspond to gunfire recorded on a neighbor’s cellphone video at 5:02 p.m., 47 minutes after Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said the narcotics officers arrived at the house.

    Don’t know ’bout you fellers, but I saw Training Day, I know how this shit works.

  3. Keep the on, Mr. Sullum. Making another contribution.

  4. Sounds like gunshots to make up fake evidence, and fake bullhorn usage to confound the timeline, all to buttress their fake narrative.

    Every single cop involved is guilty of murder.

    1. Agreed. Felony murder, misprision, conspiracy in furtherance of, etc.

      They all need to hang.

      1. Seconded. Depriving people of Life, Liberty, or Property, UNDER COLOR OF LAW, is the highest of crimes, as far as I’m concerned.

    2. Fake bullhorn isn’t to confound to timeline, it’s them trying to prove, after the fact, that the homeowners were dangerous. “We asked them to surrender peacefully but they opened fire as soon as we approached the house.” They made this decision after they’d had over an hour to search the house and found no drugs and realized they’d wasted a man, his wife, and their dog for no reason and probably got their buddy to admit to them that the drug buy was faked.

      1. Where’s VEK when you need him to defend cops doing terrible things?

      2. They also could have retreated after their panic-fire.

        There is plenty of precedent for this – Jose Guereno was allowed to bleed to death on his kitchen floor as his wife pleaded with police to allow EMS to come and help him. The police panic fired through the front door after waking him and his wife with pounding and shouting and then breaking the door in. One of the officers panicked and screamed that he was hit, despite not being hit and Guereno never taking his safety off.

        So in this case it is entirely possible that officers panic fired and shot each other before retreating and spending an hour or two commanding the dying couple to come out with their hands up, too afraid of what they perceived to be an armed and dangerous Bonnie and Clyde duo on a murderous rampage. (rather than some old couple who just got murdered in their own home)

        1. They were confirmed dead long before the telling them to come out.

      3. You mean “got their fake buddy that doesn’t exist” to admit …”

    3. The cops? Because the timing of the gunshots and the recording of the bullhorn *destroy* their narrative, not buttress it.

    4. Death penalty for murder under color of authority or in course of any government employment.

      1. Obstruction of justice in such a case should be accessory to such murder and be punishable by life without possibility of parole.

  5. Umm….there’s cellphone video that includes shots being fired during the raid?!?!?!?! Where the fuck is the rest of that video????? Why only two short clips?

  6. I am glad to see Sullum keeping us updated on this story – it’s going to be a long, twisted tale by the time it’s over and I’m afraid a gag-ordered settlement will never give us any resolution to the story. I hope I’m wrong but I suspect nothing will be learned, nothing will be changed, nobody will be punished and nobody will care until the next time this same thing happens again.

    1. I hope you’re wrong, too. I hope felony murder charges are pressed in this case, hopefully against multiple individuals.

      1. If three cops in Texas can rape a woman on the side of the road ON CAMERA and get away scott-free, there’s no hope a simple brutal murder or two will get prosecuted.

  7. Acevedo has a lock on the 2019 Muhammad al-Sahhaf (aka Baghdad Bob) award.

  8. Acevedo “described a ferocious assault by both Rhogena and her husband on a ‘hero,’ Gerald Goines, while he led Narcotics Squad 15 into a well-known ‘drug house’…

    I’m surprised he didn’t give Goines a medal. They like to give each other commendations so that they can later have journalists report with absolute credulity that an accused officer has been decorated for bravery or integrity or whatever.

    1. I dunno, I’m a little more concerned that they have at least fifteen blood thirsty murder squads hunting for innocent people to butcher in the name of drugs.

      1. And successfully defending yourself against them is a capital offense in some states and a life sentence in the more enlightened ones.

  9. If the family has a go fund me, I’d be willing to donate. HPD is corrupt from the top down and needs to be stopped.

    1. The family is not going to need a GoFundMe when their lawsuit covering this shit show is resolved.

      1. I dunno, if they keep pressing instead of taking the money, they might get “investigated for drugs” as well.

        1. Damn sure better not park more than 12″ from the curb.

      2. Sometimes it takes upfront money to keep an investigation going. An attorney may be more interested in getting a settlement than the truth so he can get his pay cutting an investigation short.

  10. If even half of the shit in this article is confirmed to be true, someone on that force should be in an orange jumpsuit and leg irons.

    1. Several someones and at least one or two with needles in their arms.

      I don’t see any one piece that doesn’t automatically constitute conspiracy and would have a hard time believing between a fraudulent warrant and two dead suspects the outcome wasn’t premeditated and/or felony murder.

      1. same. That the MSM isn’t covering this more is bullshit, this should be some front page news, not Trump’s tweet of the day

  11. Thank you for following up on this story.

    If this was a novel, I’d say it was a hit.

    Since it’s real life, I’m going to say that the Houston PD is institutionally retarded.

    1. I say they need to do with HPD what they did with Oakland and make it answer to federal oversight. Then again, after Oakland had the huge sex scandal with that minor in 2016, all but 3 of the 14 officers got off, with the other 3 pleading guilty. Maybe we should just grab our guns instead.

      1. all but 3 of the 14 officers got off

        Phrasing, please.

        1. Sounds right – – – – – –

    2. “Since it’s real life, I’m going to say that the Houston PD is institutionally retarded.”

      I don’t think there’s anything retarded about getting away with murder.

  12. Thanks Jacob, good article.

  13. This is heart-breaking. Extra-judicial killings should not be tolerated. 🙂

  14. It always Acevedo. That asshat is Cop-Cancer – bad police culture follow wherever he goes. Ger rid of him, Houston and reform you PD. Austin did it, and is better off for it.

  15. There’s talk that this was all set up as a hit on a cop who was going to snitch. “Officer so and so killed in drug raid” kinda thing.

    1. That’s stretching this too far. They managed to murder two people, but none of the cops died. Surely if their goal was to kill a cop, there’d be a dead cop in this story. They absolutely didn’t lack compulsions about murder, and if I’m the cop who they tried to murder, I’m definitely following through with the snitching and adding murder and attempted murder to all of their charges.

      1. Exactly. And they would for sure have found the 9mm that fired the fatal rounds.

      2. The article said there were four cops that were shot in the raid, so that would make a lot of sense.

        1. But tell me why there’s no dead cop? They can waste some stranger and his wife, but they can’t put an extra round in the snitch’s head to make sure he doesn’t talk?

          No, it’s not that. It’s more likely run-of-the-mill authoritarians rubbing their bootheel in people’s faces and shooting them for “resisting,” and then complaining that this guy actually shot back.

          1. Where’s the gun he shot with? What kind of gun were the officers shot with?

    2. I don’t think that’s a good theory. What I am trying to figure out is what the motivation was to kill these two people.because this doesn’t look like a botched drug raid at all. It looks like a targeted killing.

      1. If you read the history of Goines, you’ll see that he is a violence junkie. If people get killed (these weren’t the first) while he’s getting his fix, so be it. I get the feeling that he even likes it when he gets hurt. The man is sick but the whole department knew it and went along which makes them just as sick.

  16. Thanks again for staying on top of this story Jacob. Hard to imagine a greater threat to liberty than than a government that can execute innocent citizens and face no repercussions. Nobody covers this topic like Reason.

  17. No-knock raids being legal on American soil is totally bonkers. Should be rare AF, not for petty drug BS.

    1. If people allowed to sell heroin to consenting adult customers out of their own house, what’s next, huh? People refusing to let the government read their entire internet history without proper warrants?

      1. If people allowed to NOT sell heroin to consenting adult customers out of their own house, what’s next, huh?

    2. The interesting bit about no-knock raids is that they were supposedly for dangerous armed criminals – so they could get the element of surprise on them and avoid a shootout.

      Yet what tactics do police use when they know they have an actual killer who will actually fire a weapon at them? Not a no-knock swat raid. They surround and negotiate. Or maybe shoot from a distance. They don’t jump through the bedroom window.

    3. I honestly didn’t think no-knock raids were considered legal. I figured the Fourth Amendment would cover that.

      But it’s gotta be safer than surrounding the area and flushing out the suspect, right?

  18. It seems to me most of the time police put themselves in a situation where there is a high chance of bullets flying. Why not watch people and detain them in public and THEN search the house after animal control cages the dog or dogs? No knock warrants are insane since a lot of innocent people would certainly pull their firearms out and fire not knowing it is the police.

    1. Thats to much common sense

    2. Because we got tired of waiting for David Koresh to leave the house.

      1. OMG! I thought I would be the only one who thought of David Koresh. They had been watching the compound for weeks, possibly months? Anyway, a long time. They noticed that Koresh went to Walmart on the same day every week. Soooooo… wouldn’t it have made sense for them to surround him on his way to Walmart instead of an armed raid on a compound, knowing it was full of children?

  19. Kinda makes you want to put grenade netting on all the windows, and reinforce the doors with angle iron and triple cross bars.

    1. It’ll be illegal two weeks after the cops notice.

  20. I remember when this story first came out, and what made it seem like a total lie from the get-go was the police assertion that the home owner shot 4 cops a total of 5 times with a six-shot revolver. In the middle of a chaotic, no-knock SWAT raid on his home.

    Which makes him out to be some sort of clone-hybrid love child between Wyatt Earp and Chris Kyle.

    1. I was willing to accept the possibility that he caught the entry ‘stack” in file and at least some of the wounds were pass throughs.

      But that seems so much less likely, especially since, were that the case, the cops would be shouting the ballistic evidence from the rooftops.

      That they haven’t identified the exact nature or likely caliber of the wounds makes me doubt them even more. At this point it seems more likely it was all ‘friendly’ fire.

    2. What I remember from when the story first came out was cop union president Joe Gamaldi coming out and saying how the reason these cops got shot was all these anti-cop types painting cops as the bad guys. Well, guess what, moron? The actual reason they got shot was that a cop WAS the bad guy.

  21. Appreciate you staying on top of this Jacob.
    Local media will no doubt continue to reprint boot licking police and prosecutor’s PR press releases about their version of events all actual proof to the contrary. Houston juries will continue to send the accused to prison based on the belief 99 out of 100 American’s hold that cops are somehow genetically incapable of telling a lie so the accused did it because the police said they did.
    What we don’t know yet is which police department in another part of the country will rehire these winners as exemplary examples of the kind of easy willingness to lie under oath police departments depend on to get away with everything from rape to murder.

  22. Looks to me someone wanted these people dead. Who the hell shots through walls and from outside, like others have said most of the wounded cops were probably friendly fire. Any word on the type of bullets that got the cops or did they purposely shot themselves with the dead owners gun after the fact

    1. I’m going to guess (because whatever I guess will doubtless be closer to the truth than the nonsense that HPD and their police union spouted at the beginning) that when the dog got shot, other cops heard the shotgun blast and let loose with panic/contagious firing, with no idea why they were shooting or at what, but thinking that someone inside was shooting at them.

      Which is to say, if they’d sent a mailman in first, all this could have been avoided, because mailmen seem to get through their days just fine without shoting dogs.

    2. Whoever it was shot from inside the house. The shots were fired through the dining room wall into the kitchen.

  23. How sad that it took a tragedy to alert the public to the presence of the sole bad-apple cop on the police force. /sarc

  24. It’s one thing if a bad cop forges a bad warrant and drags all his cop buddies into an awful situation like this. It’s entirely another thing if every single one of them, realizing what they’d just done, conspired to make fake bullet holes and bullhorn commands to cover it up. If that’s true every single person involved should hang. 1st degree murder for the lot of them.

  25. The Houston police department makes the Oakland and LA cops seem like angels by comparison. This is quite an accomplishment.

  26. Well, I’m sure glad Reason takes up the courageous moral stand of saying that cops killing innocent people is bad! Where would we be without the moral voice of “Libertarian” magazines like Reason??? Such daring and innovative political thought would literally occur to nobody!

    1. You’re right about the fact that it occurs to nobody. Most people are simply enamored with the police, and assume they can do no wrong.

      Trying to explain about the evils of police officers and the war on whatever they hate at the time is tuned out or responed to with cries of “HERESY!” and “LUNATIC!” and “ANARCHY!”.

      At least someone with some kind of audience is willing to say these things. As far as I’m concerned, everybody that speaks out against the police is opening themselves up to harassment and death.

    2. Unfortunately, in the modern media landscape, it is a courageous stand. Reason is the only place I’ve seen this covered, or at least covered well, at the national level it doesn’t fit anybody’s narrative, and the magic word “drugs” was uttered, so I’m sure all the shooting and stuff was for a good cause.

      1. Agreed. Sadly the media, anyone charged with investigating, and if it makes it to a courtroom, judges and juries will make excuses for police no matter what they do or who is harmed or killed.

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  29. It’s too easy for specialized police units tasked with saving the world from drugs to take shortcuts in some cases in that pursuit, and in other cases simply violate peoples rights in pursuit of money.

    The thing about the War on Drugs is it’s always about the money. In all it’s forms it’s always about the money, from the drug cartel, the drug enforcer, the smuggler, the drug dealer, the drug addiction people, the harm reduction people, drug rehabilitation people, or money laundering, it’s always about the money.

    When it’s about the money, people will always take shortcuts in the name of profit. Because it’s always about the money.

    Please DEA… Don’t Even Ask….

  30. Another case of 99% of cops making the other 1% look bad.

    1. I was going to say “of the bad cops making the good cop look bad.”

      Because I’m sure there’s at least one. 1%, I’m not so sure about.

      1. Go ahead, keep making jokes about the brave men in blue.

        You won’t be laughing so hard when some cold dark night you have a break in and call the cops to carry out an execution of the innocent couple living next door to you.

        Then you won’t be laughing so hard funny boy.

  31. LEO are agents of government. I don’t know why, but it seems that most Americans simply don’t make that connection.

    In my opinion, any time a government agent kills someone, there should be an automatic federal prosecution. If a grand jury decides there isn’t probable cause that a crime was committed, so be it.

    Moreover, LEOs should be held to a *higher* standard than civilians.

  32. […] Additional reporting/commentary: Houston Chronicle, TexasCHLforum (discussion thread), Washington Post, Reason […]

  33. But I want the truth! What does the Policemen’s Union say about all this?

  34. This sort of thing will continue nationwide until every miscreant who swaers any false testimony or evidence that leads to any innocent being harmed receives, as a certainty, the biblical punishment for bearing false witness. That prescribed punishment is to suffer the harm actually done to the innocents that results from the false testimony, or the harm that WOULD befall them if the testimony were true.

    In this case, that means EVERY DIRTY COPPER who bore an part of the falsifying reports to launch the raid MUST suffer the death penalty, as that is what happened to this couple as a result of the false testimony… the “buy” that never happend, identifying that house, the fable about the kid doing drugs in that house, etc. AND every officer on scene who helped in the coverup, prividing false “evidence” in way of recording,s statments, gunshots through walls by the coppers….

    Until THIS sort of recompense is certain to be meted out on the liars, we will cntinue reading about such travesties.

    And Departments that appear to have a high incidence of such activity should get taken apart from the top down and remade. Those covering and helping to build the fables to masquerade these incidents should also get the Needle…..

    Let this happen in one or two cases well covered in the press, and anyone still breating within the US would pause and contemplate whether their own involvement in another travesty of justice as this one is

  35. […] And another lying cop, who has more than 1000 cases being reviewed, is behind the mess. ‘No One Will Hurt You,’ a SWAT Officer Promised an Hour After Houston Cops Killed a Coup…. […]

  36. Acevedo has to go. He has misled the public about what happened at every opportunity. If they found a 357 they would be showing it and connecting it ballistically to the wounded officers, instead Acevedo just asserts that friendly fire was not responsible for the 4 wounded officers.

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