Drugs

A Phony Warrant, a Deadly Drug Raid, and a Barrel of Bad Apples in Houston

Did the city's "policies, customs or practices," invite Fourth Amendment violations?

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On January 28, 2019, plainclothes narcotics officers broke into a house on Harding Street in Houston and killed all three occupants: Dennis Tuttle, a retired 59-year-old machinist; his 58-year-old wife, Rhogena Nicholas; and their dog. The couple's families marked the two-year anniversary of that deadly home invasion by filing federal civil rights lawsuits against the city, its police chief, and 13 officers implicated in the operation.

The raid, which was triggered by a phony tip, was based on a no-knock search warrant that Officer Gerald Goines obtained by falsely portraying Tuttle and Nicholas as -dangerous drug dealers. The centerpiece of Goines' search warrant -affidavit was a fictional heroin purchase by a nonexistent confidential informant. Another narcotics officer, Steven Bryant, backed up Goines' story. Goines and Bryant eventually were charged with several state and federal crimes, including two counts of felony murder against Goines.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who hailed the cops who killed Tuttle and Nicholas as "heroes" and 10 months after the raid was still dismissing "the chances of this being systemic," would like the story to end there: with two bad apples whose lies led to the regrettable but necessary use of deadly force against two people who, in turned out, were not actually heroin dealers. But the lawsuits argue that the blame extends to 11 other cops who helped instigate the raid, executed it, or allowed it to happen; Acevedo, who has never apologized for posthumously defaming Tuttle and Nicholas or given a full explanation of why they died; and the city, which built a moldy barrel where apples were bound to go bad and spread their rot.

The lawsuit filed by Nicholas' mother and brother says Narcotics Squad 15, which executed the raid, "operated as a criminal organization" that "tormented Houston residents for years." The officers' crimes included "search warrants obtained by perjury," "false statements submitted to cover up the fraudulent warrants," "improper payments to informants," "illegal and unconstitutional invasions of homes," "illegal arrests," and "excessive force."

Goines, whom Acevedo initially described as "a big teddy bear" who was "tough as nails" and had "tremendous courage," worked in narcotics for 25 years. According to news reports and court documents, he routinely lied to obtain no-knock search warrants, framed innocent people, handled evidence recklessly, carried on a sexual relationship with a confidential informant, and stole public money.

Goines was not the only allegedly corrupt officer in Squad 15. Since the Harding Street raid, Harris County District -Attorney Kim Ogg has charged a dozen current or former narcotics officers with felonies, including lies about overtime and drug purchases.

"Houston Police narcotics officers falsified documentation about drug -payments to confidential informants with the support of supervisors," Ogg said in July. "Goines and others could never have preyed on our community the way they did without the participation of their supervisors; every check and balance in place to stop this type of behavior was -circumvented."

Acevedo argues that Goines' colleagues acted in good faith based on a warrant they believed was valid and should not be held responsible for his fabrications. In January, after a Harris County grand jury indicted Officer Felipe Gallegos for murdering Tuttle, Acevedo reiterated his position that the cops "responded appropriately" to the "deadly threat" they encountered after they broke in the door and immediately opened fire, killing the dog with a shotgun.

An independent forensic examination commissioned by the Tuttle and Nicholas families cast doubt on key parts of Acevedo's story, including the justification for shooting the dog and the claim that Nicholas, who was unarmed, posed an imminent threat. The physical evidence indicates that the cops, who said Tuttle responded to the violent invasion of his home by grabbing a revolver and shooting at the intruders, blindly and wildly fired dozens of rounds. Tuttle—who supposedly fired four rounds, hitting one cop in the shoulder, two in the face, and one in the neck—was frail and disabled, which his family says makes that feat implausible.

Both families argue that the city's "policies, customs or practices," including inadequate training and lax supervision, invited Fourth Amendment violations. They say the city has refused to answer basic questions about what happened during the raid, which was not recorded by body cameras. "It's been two years now," said John Nicholas, Rhogena's brother. "We're not going to quit until we get answers."

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  1. I wish I could trust the reporting here, but there are significant gaps in the evidence. I’m inclined to agree that the cops here are corrupt and deserve the chair, but the story isn’t adding up.
    Why were these individuals targeted by the narcotics officer? Personal grudge? Reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing? I would even like to see that the cop was corrupt enough to falsify evidence for a warrant when there was at least some grounds for it. That doesn’t absolve anything, but I don’t understand the motive. Was it a crime invented by the officer just to justify more money for his unit or maybe even that raids just give him a hardon. Give me SOMETHING to at least mull over for motivation.
    Officers were apparently shot 4 times in this encounter. Was the victim armed or not? It seems pretty simple to verify whether the officers were shot. Prove whether or not that claim is true. If it is true, then let’s work at an explanation for how they came about their injuries. Did the officers inflict it on themselves? Are there more parties involved in this raid?
    You lose me when such obvious omissions exist. My take is that I’m supposed to believe the cops were evil and just made up an excuse to kill a random family and their dog. The lack of explanations here make me think that the family was actually involved in shady business. I also am ready to believe the cops were involved in the same.
    I really hate most reporting here at Reason. Even when I know nothing of the story it is obvious that the information provided is dishonestly selective. It undermines the whole point of the article.

    1. Maybe when you are a little older and less naive you will stop blinding trusting the government and giving them the benefit of the doubt in every scenario

      1. Yet you seem to be giving Reason a benefit of the doubt, and ignoring valid questions.

    2. Reason has been covering this story for two years. If there’s missing information, it isn’t because Reason is hiding it, its because Houston has refused to come clean about what happened.

      The start of the non-investigation appears to be a baseless complaint (I can’t remember if it was anonymous or not). ie, it doesn’t sound well-motivated at all. They’ve discovered a history of Goines getting warrants under false pretenses, so it may just have been a way for him to pad his bust record without actually doing the work – impossible to know until there’s more transparency from Houston PD.

      It’s been suspected that officers were hit by friendly fire. Houston never released their own ballistics reports or any other evidence about what happened during the shooting (which is why the family had to hire their own forensics team).

      They found no heroin. That should speak for itself.

      I’m not sure why you think it’s the family that needs to explain? We’re still waiting for the cops to explain themselves, like an actual true reason they had probable cause to be there in the first place. Cops have the burden of proof here to demonstrate they had a legitimate reason to be there and to use force (for each instance of force used), not the family to prove they didn’t. Why isn’t the cops lack of a good explanation suspicious to you?

      You seem to be bending over backwards to find a reason to exonerate cops who were clearly in the wrong.

      Coverage elsewhere, such that it exists, mostly lines up with Reasons coverage. Ogg’s indictments against multiple police officers in the Houston narcotics unit also speak for themselves. There’s little reason to believe its Reason that is being deceptive here, and every reason to believe Houston PD are the ones that have been dishonest and deceptive about what they know about the raid.

      1. The problem is the lack of trust in the media. His point is there has to be some reason for the frame job. That the cops targets these 2 for assassination because they were just that evil isnt a very plausible story. Were they swatted? Did the cops think they had drugs and were surprised that the couple not only didnt, but that they didnt just meekly surrender? Did the guy fuck Goines’ wife and this was revenge? Were they hired to kill them by a third party? If it was friendly fire and not self defense that shot the pigs, there definitely needs to be more information gathered or released.

        1. A neighbor, who is facing charges for making a false report, reported them as being drug dealers. The police ran with it without doing any verification. They didn’t even have the couple’s names before making the raid.

        2. The people with the answers you want are the very same people who are stonewalling the release of all that information – the police.

          And for very good reasons (like not incriminating themselves), they are not going to release that information until it’s dragged out by a court. This is not some Law & Order show where you get behind-the-scenes views of the crime and insights into the criminals’ motivations. This is real life. Most criminals’ motivations are never known.

      2. Hopefully, all of these issues will be answered in the trial.

    3. bad cops bust gone wrong. they didn’t think the older couple would resist having their door kicked in and their dog killed. these cops have been doing this for years and they finally lost control of a crime scene. these cops obviously get off on the power trip they have over people in this community. the HPD is doing their best to hide the rampant corruption that has been going on for decades

    4. Good question. What ARE the incentives used to motivate police officers to make arrests? Why would officers lie to get search warrants? Why do prison guard unions, police unions, and private prison companies lobby against marijuana legalization? Follow the money.

    5. Motive is fool’s gold. It’s invented by prosecutors to build a story. Goines is the only one who can actually tell you what his motive was. Discounting all the other evidence because you don’t know motive is silly.

      Four cops were shot, but the Houston PD has released no evidence showing the victims did any shooting. They wouldn’t be the first cops hit by “friendly fire” during a raid.

  2. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who hailed the cops who killed Tuttle and Nicholas as “heroes” and 10 months after the raid was still dismissing “the chances of this being systemic,” would like the story to end there: with two bad apples whose lies led to the regrettable but necessary use of deadly force against two people who, in turned out, were not actually heroin dealers.

    The correct response when someone trots out the old “just a few bad apples” excuse is this: The old saying was “A few bad apples spoil the whole barrel”.

    Rot spreads if it is not excised quickly and efficiently. As long as the “good” cops keep protecting the bad apples from the consequences of their corruption, there is no such thing as a good cop.

  3. Whatever. Isn’t Acevedo on his way to Miami now?

  4. Two people killed by police for no reason, based on the drug squad’s common tactic of false leads and warrants, yet no protests, no marches, no riots, no politicians calling for justice.

    Wonder why.

    1. Because we’re Texans. Things seem to be working out, albeit more slowly than we. Smashing windows and stealing from our neighbors is counterproductive and wouldn’t hurt the people that really need it.

      The riots have given Chauvin a near textbook case for appeal. We don’t want that to happen here as well.

    2. Because purported police reformers actually enable police abuse by insisting that it is a problem rooted in racism. It is rooted in statism and is a feature not a bug.

  5. “As long as the “good” cops keep protecting the bad apples from the consequences of their corruption, there is no such thing as a good cop.”

    Big city homicide detectives are almost always overwhelmed with cases, are they bad because drug cops are engaging in illegal behavior? They have 5300 cops in Houston. Are all tainted and bad due to the actions of these filthy cops? They all don’t occupy the same “barrel”. They have different assignments, different precincts, and different bosses. Are all citizens bad because some are criminals? The “good” citizens in the ghetto protect the criminals, right? This is well known. Is there no such thing as a good citizen anywhere in the city because the people in the ghetto protect their own?

    1. What are all those “good cops” doing about the “bad cops,” and how is it the “good cops” are never on scene when these “bad cops” are doing their bad things?

  6. This is about your 30th article on this. Nothing has really changed in the case, and because they are white and the cop was black nobody in left wing america cares.

    1. yep, doesn’t fit the narrative, so ignore it

  7. This is one of the many examples that should be used to push for police reform.

    How strange that the “chosen” examples are always controversial.

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  9. Even worse along the spectrum of police abuse causes from simple boneheaded cops to Chauvin’s depravity and his cohorts’ cowardice is the organized corruption and oppression at the root of this case. Bad laws creating bad incentives for manager cops and judges, and all three enabling and protecting bad cops.

    If anyone that fought the injustice of Floyd’s murder is not fighting the even greater injustice of Tuttle’s and Nicholas’ murders and the brutal killing of their dog in their own home; they are, at best, the worst of political hacks or, at worst, are such racists that they sanction democide against any of we with less melanin than themselves.

  10. A few things still being ignored

    1) The injuries to the cops look like they came from the shotgun the cops themselves had. It looks like the cops’ story about their victim having a .357 is a lie. Why not ask the hospital for details about the injuries, which appear to be more consistent with 00 from a shotgun.

    2) What about the neighbor who saw a cop poke a rifle through a window some time after the initial shooting, and fire several shots? The appearance is that the cop was finishing off a wounded victim, as per the neighbor.

    3) Most importantly, why has there been so little mainstream coverage of the discrepancies in the police versions of this raid? Why are so few mainstream sites unable to simply copy and paste Reason’s articles?

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