War on Drugs

The Houston Cop Charged With Murdering Dennis Tuttle During a Disastrous Drug Raid Portrays His Victim As the Aggressor

After breaking into Tuttle's home with no legal justification, police killed his dog and his wife.


Felipe Gallegos, the Houston narcotics officer who was indicted this week for murdering Dennis Tuttle during a disastrous 2019 drug raid based on a fraudulent search warrant affidavit, says he lawfully shot Tuttle in defense of his colleagues. At a press conference yesterday, Gallegos' lawyer, Rusty Hardin, described what happened after plainclothes cops broke into Tuttle's house on January 28, 2019, and immediately used a shotgun to kill his dog. Hardin said Gallegos shot Tuttle, who according to police responded to the violent invasion of his home by grabbing a revolver and firing at the intruders, only after four officers had been wounded.

Hardin made it sound as if the cops were overwhelmed by a barrage of gunfire. But the evidence indicates that nearly all the rounds were fired by the cops, who responded to Tuttle's defense of his home with overwhelming force, shooting blindly and wildly through the front of the house and into walls, cabinets, and the ceiling.

According to Hardin, Tuttle fired just four rounds, all of which hit his targets, striking two officers in the face, one in the neck, and one in the shoulder. That is some pretty impressive shooting, especially for a 59-year-old disabled Navy veteran who, according to a lawyer representing his wife's family, had just been awakened from a nap.

"I don't think he could have shot all of them," Tuttle's uncle told KPRC, Houston's NBC station, in 2019. "You're going to tell me he is capable of doing what they say he did?" KPRC noted that "Tuttle weighed only 112 pounds," and "he had his right hand bandaged and his leg in a brace." Yet Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo insists "there is no evidence of friendly fire in this case."

Hardin said Gallegos was standing near the front porch, toward "the back of the stack" attacking the house. "He hears one officer yell 'I'm hit!'" Hardin said, apparently referring to the first cop through the door. According to Acevedo, that officer was struck in the shoulder after he fired shotgun "rounds" at the dog. At that point, Hardin said, Gallegos "hears some gunshots. He then hears some more gunshots, and then officers are starting to back out."

While the officers are backing out, Hardin said, Officer Cedell Lovings is "shot through the neck, and he falls, and he can't move. Other officers back out. There's more shooting." As the cops try to pull Lovings out, Officer Gerald Goines "is shot in the face to such a degree that…part of his face hangs loose. This is what Officer Gallegos is seeing. There is still an officer inside that has been shot. And then [Gallegos] sees Mr. Tuttle stick his arms out and shoot outside. Another officer is shot in the face. And then ultimately, Officer Gallegos engages in fire with Mr. Tuttle, and Mr. Tuttle is killed."

When police examined Tuttle's revolver, Hardin said, they found that he had fired "four shots," with "two live rounds remaining." Tuttle therefore could not possibly have fired all of the rounds that Hardin says Gallegos heard.

After the first cop through the door was shot, Acevedo said at a press conference the day after the raid, he "fell on the sofa in the living room," at which point Tuttle's 58-year-old wife, Rhogena Nicholas, "reached over the officer and started making a move for his shotgun." Responding to that threat, he said, "other officers in the stack that made entry discharged their firearms, striking that female suspect."

A forensic examination commissioned by Nicholas' family contradicted Acevedo's account, finding 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." After the cops killed Nicholas, Acevedo said, "an exchange of gunfire…continued." That is when Lovings and Goines were shot. "After we had two officers down and another one shot," Acevedo said, "the remaining officers in the stack started laying down cover fire."

According to March 19, 2019, autopsy report from the Harris County Institute for Forensic Sciences, Tuttle was hit at least eight times. He suffered gunshot wounds in his head and neck, chest, left shoulder, left buttock (which was struck twice), left thigh, left forearm, left hand, right wrist, and right forearm (two graze wounds). The report says the chest injury "may represent a re-entrance wound of a fragmented bullet associated with one of the gunshot wounds of the upper extremities." An autopsy report on Nicholas, written the same day, says she was shot in the torso and right thigh.

The Houston Police Department has not publicly said how many rounds the police fired that day. An independent inspection overseen by Michael S. Maloney, a former supervisory special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, found that several rounds, including the bullet that killed Nicholas, were fired through the exterior wall of the house near the front door. KPRC showed multiple bullet holes in the ceiling and in the kitchen's walls, cabinets, and stovetop.

For two years, Nicholas' mother and brother have been trying to find out exactly what happened during the raid, which was not recorded by body cameras. The city has resisted them at every turn. The information sought by Nicholas' family includes "the bullet count remaining in the weapons used by the HPD and the bullet count in any additional magazines, speed loaders or other devices carried at the time of the incident." The family also wants "medical and ballistics documentation of the wounds sustained by the HPD personnel," along with "ballistics materials that may have been recovered during medical intervention and from protective vests worn during the Harding Street Incident."

Hardin conceded that "it appears [Tuttle and Nicholas] were innocent of drug activity," since the case against them was fabricated by Goines, who as a result faces multiple state and federal charges, including two counts of felony murder. But once Tuttle "started shooting," Hardin said, "he was not innocent."

Hardin argues that Tuttle should have known that the men who invaded his home, killing his dog and his wife, were police officers. While they were not wearing uniforms, he said, "they were dressed in a way" that "anybody would look at them and know they were a police officer." Hardin also claims witnesses heard the cops shout "Police! Search warrant!" as they entered the house—an announcement that Tuttle easily could have missed in the shock and chaos of the raid. Although it was the cops who broke into the house with no legal justification and it was the cops who fired first, Gallegos' defense hinges on portraying Tuttle as the aggressor in this situation.