Police Abuse

Judge Quashes Felony Murder Charges Against Former Houston Cop Whose Lies Led to a Deadly 2019 Drug Raid

Gerald Goines' lawyers argued that the indictment did not adequately specify the underlying felony of tampering with a government document.


It has been more than five years since Houston police officers killed Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, a middle-aged couple falsely implicated in drug dealing, after breaking into their home on Harding Street. That raid was based on a fraudulent search warrant affidavit in which veteran narcotics officer Gerald Goines described a heroin purchase that he later admitted never happened. Efforts to hold Goines accountable for his lethal dishonesty hit another roadblock last week when a Harris County judge dismissed two felony murder charges against him.

The Harris County District Attorney's Office charged Goines with two counts of felony murder in August 2019, seven months after the Harding Street raid. According to its complaint, Goines committed "the felony offense of Tampering with a Government Record, and while in the course of and [in] furtherance of the commission of said offense did commit an act clearly dangerous to human life"—i.e., "making forcible entry into a residence by armed peace officers through the use of a 'no knock' search warrant based on false information provided knowingly by the defendant," thereby causing the deaths of Tuttle and Nicholas.

A grand jury backed those charges in an indictment issued on January 15, 2020, and District Court Judge Frank Aguilar declined to dismiss them. But District Court Judge Veronica Nelson, who took over the case this year after Aguilar was suspended because of a domestic violence arrest, was persuaded by Goines' claim that the charges did not adequately specify the underlying felony.

Prosecutors cited Section 37.10 of the Texas Penal Code, which makes it a third-degree felony to tamper with a government record in any of six ways. Because the indictment did not say exactly how Goines had violated that statute, his lawyers argued, it impaired his ability to mount a defense. "It doesn't give us adequate notice of what it is specifically that we have to defend against," said Mac Secrest, one of Goines' attorneys.

"The Harris County District Attorney's office is shocked and tremendously disappointed  that a judge would choose to revisit this issue, knowing that her predecessor had already ruled the defendant's position meritless," the office said in response to Nelson's ruling. "The office is considering all its options, including amending the indictment, with an eye towards trying this case as soon as possible to ensure justice for the victims of these crimes."

The state case against Goines had been scheduled for trial in June. Nelson's decision could delay the trial by a year or more, depending on how long it takes to appeal the ruling and/or seek a new indictment. Goines also faces federal civil rights charges in connection with the Harding Street raid, but there has been no apparent movement in that case since the indictment was announced in November 2019.

Two other defendants in the federal case have pleaded guilty. Patricia Ann Garcia, a neighbor whose phony tip prompted Goines' investigation of Tuttle and Nicholas, pleaded guilty to making false reports in March 2021 and was sentenced to 40 months in prison. In June 2021, former Houston narcotics officer Steven Bryant, who had backed up Goines' fictional account of arranging for a confidential informant to buy heroin from Tuttle, pleaded guilty to falsifying records and obstructing the resulting federal investigation. He has not been sentenced yet.

Goines and Bryant are also defendants in two federal lawsuits filed by relatives of Tuttle and Nicholas in January 2021. Those lawsuits, one of which also names former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo as a defendant, are scheduled for trial in September.

"Justice in the HPD Harding Street killings remains a far-off prospect, at least in the hands of the US Attorney and District Attorney offices," Mike Doyle, an attorney who represents the Nicholas family, said in an emailed statement. "The family of Rhogena Nicholas remains disappointed that local, state, and federal authorities have either ignored this injustice or helped delay the Goines murder prosecution. The legal explanations aside, we're now in a sixth year of a taxpayer-funded coverup of these murders. The Nicholas family still will not give up its ongoing fight to reveal the truth of what happened before, during and after the killing of Rhogena."

Update, April 4: On Wednesday, according to the Harris County District Attorney's Office, a grand jury approved new felony murder indictments against Goines. One of his attorneys, Nicole DeBorde Hochglaube, said she had not seen the new documents yet and therefore did not know exactly how the language had been changed.