Drug War

Nearly 2 Years After Houston Drug Warriors Killed Rhogena Nicholas, Her Family May Get a Chance To Find Out What Happened

Despite the city's stubborn resistance, a judge will finally consider the family's request to depose police supervisors.

|

Nearly two years after Houston narcotics officers invaded the home of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas based on a fraudulent search warrant and shot them both dead, we still don't have a clear picture of what happened that day. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, despite his pose as an avatar of transparency and accountability, has not told us, and the city has been vigorously resisting Nicholas' relatives as they try to find out why she died.

This week, Harris County Probate Court Judge Jerry Simoneaux dealt a blow to the city's stonewalling by scheduling a hearing at which he will consider a request by Nicholas' mother and brother to depose the supervisors who were in charge of the Houston Police Department's Narcotics Division at the time of the January 2019 raid. The city unsuccessfully urged a state appeals court to intervene, then unsuccessfully asked the Texas Supreme Court to overturn that decision.

"They basically claimed that the court which handles wrongful death cases didn't have jurisdiction to consider a wrongful death investigation case," Michael Doyle, an attorney representing the Nicholas family, told the Houston Press. "That's why the Court of Appeals kicked it out very quickly, because that's kind of silly."

Here is what we do know about the deadly raid at 7815 Harding Street, based on public statements and court documents:

• The investigation of Tuttle and Nicholas began with a false tip from a neighbor who described them as dangerous drug dealers.

• Veteran Houston narcotics officer Gerald Goines conducted an investigation so cursory that he did not even know the names of his targets. In the affidavit supporting his application for a no-knock search warrant, he described Tuttle as "a white male, whose name is unknown."

• Goines, who has been charged with murder, document tampering, and federal civil rights violations, lied in his warrant application, describing an imaginary heroin purchase by a nonexistent confidential informant.

• Tuttle and Nicholas had no criminal records, and the search discovered no evidence of drug dealing.

• Fellow narcotics officer Steven Bryant, who also faces state and federal charges, backed up Goines' phony story.

• Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg—whose office has charged Goines, Bryant, and four other officers, including three supervisors, with a litany of felonies—says the fraud that killed Tuttle and Nicholas reflects "a pattern and practice of lying and deceit" within the Narcotics Division, where cops commonly built cases on fabrications that were either overlooked or abetted by supervisors. "Goines and others could never have preyed on our community the way they did without the participation of their supervisors," Ogg said in July. "Every check and balance in place to stop this type of behavior was circumvented."

• Acevedo, who was featured at this summer's Democratic National Convention as a reform-minded police chief, does not think his department has a "systemic" problem.

After investigating the circumstances that led to the Harding Street raid, Ogg's office is looking into the way the warrant was served. Nicholas' family also wants answers. Here are some of the unresolved questions:

Why was the raid approved?

Supervisors apparently did not notice or did not care that Goines, who had a history of questionable testimony and affidavits, was unable to name the people he supposedly had been investigating for two weeks, who had lived in the house for decades. Nor did supervisors make even a rudimentary effort to verify that the confidential informant who supposedly had bought heroin from Tuttle actually existed. Instead, investigators scrambled after the raid to identify the informant as Goines named one person after another before finally confessing that he had made the whole thing up.

"The identity of CI's providing specific information about criminal activities…is required to be documented and readily accessible to police managers," says a petition that Doyle filed in July 2019. "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." 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," the petition adds.

Did Tuttle and Nicholas realize that the armed men breaking into their home were police officers?

There is no body camera video of the raid. But according to Acevedo, the cops announced themselves at the same moment they broke in the door, then immediately used a shotgun to kill the couple's dog. He said Tuttle responded by shooting at the officers with a .357 Magnum revolver. The cops returned fire, killing Tuttle, who was struck at least eight times, and Nicholas, who was hit twice.

The raid began around 5 p.m. According to Doyle, Tuttle and Nicholas were taking "an afternoon nap" at the time. While narcotics officers executing search warrants "don't show up in uniform," Acevedo said, "they do show up with plenty of gear that identifies them as police officers, including patrol officers that are out in front of the house." But patrol officers outside the house do not give people inside the house notice that the men breaching their door and killing their dog are cops, and it's not clear what other "gear" Acevedo had in mind.

Furthermore, Houston had recently seen a series of home invasions by robbers masquerading as cops. In these circumstances, it is plausible that Tuttle thought he was defending his home against dangerous criminals. Reckless drug war tactics invite that sort of confusion, which has had deadly consequences in cities across the country.

Why was Nicholas killed?

The cops claimed they shot Nicholas because she was moving toward an injured officer, who had collapsed on a couch, and they thought she was about to grab his shotgun. But an independent forensic examination of the house commissioned by Nicholas' family and overseen by former Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent Michael Maloney concluded that Nicholas had been fatally shot by someone standing outside the house who would not have been able to see her.

Based on that investigation, the Nicholas family's lawyers also questioned whether Tuttle had actually fired at the officers as they entered the house. "We see no evidence that anybody inside the house was firing toward the door," attorney Chuck Bourque told the Houston Chronicle four months after the raid.

Were officers injured by friendly fire?

Four officers, including Goines, were struck by bullets during the raid. Whose bullets? While Acevedo indignantly rejected the suggestion that the cops were injured by anyone other than Tuttle, he presented no evidence to back up that position, and the Houston Police Department has refused to comment on the question. It has not even said how many rounds the cops fired or what ammunition they were using.

The Nicholas family thinks Narcotics Division supervisors could shed light on issues like these. For more than a year, the family's attorneys have been trying to depose Capt. Paul Follis, who was in charge of the 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 a potential wrongful death lawsuit.

The city has insisted that the case does not belong in Probate Court, an argument that the 14th District Court of Appeals rejected on March 26. Last Friday, the Texas Supreme Court declined to review that decision. On Monday, Judge Simoneaux said he would hold a hearing on November 13 to finally consider the Nicholas family's deposition request.

"Our family's search for the truth of what happened to Rhogena will continue—no matter what," her brother John Nicholas said in a statement. "She did not deserve to be executed in her own home by the Houston Police Department. The mayor and chief of police still owe our family an explanation. We're not going away."

Advertisement

NEXT: Massachusetts Voters Will Decide (Again) Who Is Allowed To Fix Their Cars

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Sorry but the media has degreed that it only matters when the police shoot black felons. If you are a law abiding white person, the police can murder you with impunity and no one will care.

    What do these people want, the NBA putting their names on their jerseys or something?

    All kidding aside, the fact that so many people who claim to care so much about police brutality never said shit about this case and instead lost their minds over cases that were much less egregious and involved victims who were entirely unsympathetic shows that BLM and it’s supporters are nothing but Marxists looking to use police brutality as a way to divide and destroy the country and are in no way interested in obtaining any solution or reform to the problems they claim to exist.

    BLM claims to be concerned about police brutality. They also claim that the entire country is racist and doesn’t care about black people. Okay, if you believe those things, why wouldn’t you promote cases with white victims sometimes? Wouldn’t a white victim get the attention of big racist America than a black one?

    Beyond that, if you really want to persuade people, you choose victims to champion that are as pure as the driven snow. For example, as everyone now knows, Rosa Parks was a put up job. She wasn’t some old lady who one day decided she wasn’t sitting at the back of the bus. She was a trained activist who worked for the NAACP. Since the NAACP wanted to accomplish something, they didn’t choose a teenager with a criminal record as their test case. They choose the most blameless and nice looking old lady they could. That way their opponents couldn’t change the subject to what a dirtbag their test case was. It is not that black teenager with criminal records don’t have a right to sit wherever they want on the bus. They do. It is that if you ever want a case that will change public opinion, theirs isn’t he case you choose.

    BLM and the rest of the groups who claim to care about anti police brutality have done the exact opposite. Even case they champion is of an unsympathetic victim whose shooting is if not legitimate is close enough to give someone looking to defend the cops something to rationalize their support. They never choose a case like this that is so egregious and the victims so blameless there is nothing for someone looking to support the cops to use to rationalize that support.

    I do not believe that is by accident or incompetence. I think it is by design because close cases involving unsympathetic victims are the cases that will create the most division and damage to the system.

    1. BLM picks divisive cases because they want a destabilizing revolution. As Robert Barnes noted, he’s taken (and won) horrendous civil rights cases and BLM was nowhere to be found. He postulates it was because there was no question about the claim, and good claims lead to quiet reform.

      1. Yup And what infuriates me is all of the stupid fucking white liberals who are taken in by it. The typical dumb white Democrat doesn’t want a communist revolution and really does want police reform. Yet, they are too stupid to see how badly they are being played by BLM. It is pathetic.

        1. If you believe that the liberals are taken in by this, you haven’t been paying attention.
          They are knowingly supporting the revolution.

          1. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new…ZAs after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

            Here’s what I do…>> Click here

            1. Corona is big threat of the century which effect physically, mentally and financially/ JOJ To over come these difficulties and make full use of this hostage period and make online earning.

              For more detail visit the given link…………► Click Here

          2. BLM only cares when its a black victim and a white cop; gotta fit in their narrative. If they really cared about police reform, they would use the white victims too. police reform is just the foot in the door for rioting, looting, burning, and killing.

    2. BLM can’t pick their cases. Unlike the civil rights era, a mob shouting black lives matters can burn down main street and the local cops will do nothing to stop them. You can’t stage a violent overreaction when no one reacts.

      1. Burning shit down and rioting doesn’t help their cause, assuming their cause is a kinder and better police force, which their behavior indicates is anything but their actual goal.

    3. https://twitter.com/Popehat/status/1313923071007318016

      Come get your boy dopehat reason.

      Beautiful. you beltway libs are fucking amazing.

      You cry worse then BLM cries about free markets

    4. Start earning today from $600 to $754 easily by working online from home. Last month i have generated and received $19663 from this job by giving this only maximum 2 hours a day of my life. Easiest job in the world and earning from this job are just awesome. Everybody can now get this job and start earning cash online right now by just follow instructions click on this link and vist tabs( Home, Media, Tech ) for more details
      thanks……Click here

  2. SWAT time, it’s a flash grenade.
    SWAT time, it’s a midnight raid.

    Bust down your door, kill your wife, kill your dog…..falsify the it all in the police log.

    (moctexuma vega)

    1. Kinda makes you want to read up on grenade netting and steel doors and triple cross bars on all the doors. right?
      Massive amounts of sound and motion activated flood lights, video cameras everywhere, and automatic upload to the web.

      1. It’s getting expensive to keep safe these days. Before it was just keeping the front porch light on at night.

  3. The investigation of Tuttle and Nicholas began with a false tip from a neighbor who described them as dangerous drug dealers.

    I hope something very, very bad happens to that neighbor Karen.

    1. I would like to hear the rest of the story. Did the woman have some kind of beef against these people? Did the cop? Why would she do that. And more importantly why would the cop go to all the trouble of lying on the warrant application based on a single tip by someone he didn’t know against people he had never had any previous dealings with?

      It doesn’t make any sense.

      1. It doesn’t seem to make sense. But with Tuttle’s history of fabricating warrant application information, perhaps he just got kicks out of raiding houses. All he needed was a minuscule pretext.

      2. Everything I read at the time about the cop indicates that he is a scumbag who never really “worked” his cases. Let’s be honest- in the Drug War, 75 – 80% of the time, where there is smoke, there is fire. You get tips, and talk to the right people, and ultimately end up with a big bust that makes you a hero. How many of the procedural cop shows do they pretty much know the guilty party, and they are just spending time collecting evidence?

        To people like this officer, the “finding enough evidence for a search warrant” thing is just a bunch of extra work when you already KNOW the perp. And so my theory is that he just got into the habit of skipping the work part, and just fabricates search warrants so he can get the evidence he needs for a raid.

        It just turns out this time, the tip that turned him onto a big score was some crazy lady who made shit up.

    2. Was there a Karen? The investigating officer did so much lying, he may have made up the tip just like he made up the confidential informant.

    3. That’s what Karen said about her neighbors…

    4. I thought there was an address issue?

      Like the neighbor may’ve tipped off about the seemingly vacant house to the south, on the other side of the frontage road, and the informant fabricated a story about the Tuttle Residence to the north.

  4. The cops returned fire, killing Tuttle, who was struck at least eight times, and Nicholas, who was hit twice.

    the Houston Police Department … has not even said how many rounds the cops fired…

    Given the marksmanship abilities of the average cop, if they managed to hit Tuttle 8 times and Nicholas twice, then it’s probably safe to assume they turned that house into Swiss cheese with probably at least 100 rounds fired. And I’m only slightly exaggerating.

  5. Furthermore, Houston had recently seen a series of home invasions by robbers masquerading as cops.

    Everything else aside, this is an issue law enforcement has to come to terms with. People are going to defend themselves. Do police departments really have no answer for how their officers are put in front of justified self defense?

    1. Yes they are. The most dangerous thing you can do is go into a building with someone waiting for you looking to do you harm. Infantry hates doing that more than anything. There is nothing more deadly and awful and that infantry will do more to avoid than urban combat.

      Yet, cops have decided that they are going to kick people’s doors down without knocking and create that very situation in the name of “officer safety”. It is insane.

      Very few if any drug dealers want to turn a drug conviction into a death sentence or life without parole, depending on the state, for killing a cop. The biggest protection a cop has in that situation is his badge and his uniform. Anyone who gives a shit about officer safety should be appalled by no knock or one knock raids. Knock on the door and make damn sure they know you are the cops. Who gives a shit if they flush some of the product down the toilet. In most cases the warrant was obtained because of a controlled buy anyway. So, all you need to do is find the scales and papers and plastic bags and other paraphernalia that go with drug dealing and you have a conviction. The actual drugs are not needed in most cases and are not worth risking your life over.

      1. If they really wanted to protect evidence, all they have to do is shut the water off at the street before they knock. Just one flush is going to leave residue. This has always been about showing drug dealers who really controls the territory. They learned this shit from the organized criminals and then became them.

      2. Very few if any drug dealers want to turn a drug conviction into a death sentence or life without parole, depending on the state, for killing a cop.

        I’m not very deep in the industry, but I suspect flushing anything but trivial amounts of drugs down the toilet would also incur the ire of people much less… socially conscious than even the bungling idiots of the local PD.

  6. Black cop kills a white person, doesn’t make a dent in the news.

    Black person dies of heart attack from overdose, blame the system and burn it down. News at 11.

    1. NewsPropaganda/Mostly Peaceful Human Interest piece at 11.

      FIFY

  7. I haven’t heard anything more about the initial press conference where Acevedo reportedly referred to a different address several times – were the cops even at the right address? Was there actually even an “anonymous tip” from a neighbor?

    As to the rest of the “Why?” questions, the answer that the cops are psychos seems to be a sufficient excuse. They live for the adrenaline rush of “combat” with little chance of there being any sort of heavily armed resistance getting the drop on them and they don’t need much of an excuse to get their war boners on. And this Goines fucker seems like he wasn’t even bothering to find suspicious people to pin drug charges on, he was a crazy cop just picking out random people. How the hell was this psycho even a cop?

    1. He also called the cops heros and claimed the victims were drug dealers of I recall. I suppose it’s possible this experience actually caused him to become introspective and stop beleive his officers automatically, but his new reform personal looks far more like he saw where the wind was blowing and is gearing up to enter politics.

  8. Houston PD is run by some real bad hombres or as I like to call them, “bad beans”.

  9. Thanks again Jacob for the update.

  10. Make 6,000 dollar to 8,000 dollar A Month Online With No Prior Experience Or Skills Required. Be Your Own Boss And Choose Your Own Work Hours.Thanks A lot Here>>>Read More.

  11. Calling the cops “drug warriors” is not helpful. I agree with Jacob but these people are just cops, they don’t write laws or make policy.

    1. Agreed, to a point. The typical cop wants to be helpful and starts their career with good intentions. Few enter law enforcement hoping to kick ass and be a stain on society.

      A twenty year veteran beat cop, keeping the street safe by walking the neighborhood and knowing the residents and rendering aid as needed, is not usually an oppressive person. He really has no chance to change the system, but is a net positive to the community and shouldn’t be mocked.

      But a narcotics detective who deals only with unjust narcotics laws, who benefits personally and professionally from injustice, is the epitome of evil. He deserves our disdain and derision.

  12. Who cares. They were white, right? Isn’t that how it goes now among cool people?

Please to post comments