On January 28, 2019 a group of veteran officers on the Houston Police Department’s Squad 15 narcotics task force gathered at a small, tan, white-trimmed home of suspected heroin dealers to conduct a raid. It turned violent within minutes, and by the time the raid had ended, four of the officers had been shot and injured while the home’s residents—Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas—were dead, along with their dog.
The shooting immediately prompted the expected response from law enforcement advocates and state leaders. Governor Greg Abbott offered prayers for the injured officers and characterized the incident as a “solemn reminder of the service and sacrifice our brave men and women in law enforcement make every day to keep us safe.” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick added in a tweet, “we must never forget to #backtheblue.”
Houston Police Department Union president Joe Gamaldi went a step further, calling out people who criticize the police. “We are sick and tired of having targets on our back,” Gamaldi said at a press conference on Monday night outside of the hospital where the injured officers were being treated. (All four survived their injuries.) “We are sick and tired of having dirtbags trying to take our lives when all we’re trying to do is protect this community and protect our families. Enough is enough. If you’re the ones out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy, well just know we’ve all got your number now. We’re going to be keeping track on all of y’all, and we’re going to make sure to hold you accountable every time you stir the pot on our police officers.”
But in the following days, details revealed about the shooting have raised familiar questions about policing and use of force—in particular, the use of a controversial no-knock warrant.
Houston police chief Art Acevedo released the identities of Tuttle and Nicholas at a press conference the morning after the shooting. The couple had been married for twenty years, and neither of them had ever been convicted of a crime in Harris County. (Nicholas, 58 years old, had a misdemeanor “theft by check” charge dismissed in 2010 after paying $145 in restitution.) Tuttle, 59, was a disabled veteran who was honorably discharged from the Navy and had suffered from “debilitating injuries” for years, his sister told reporters. Meanwhile, Nicholas’s first husband told the Houston Chronicle that she had never been into drugs. Neighbors, friends, and family expressed doubt that the couple could have been the dangerous heroin dealers described by the Houston Police Department. “I don’t buy it at all,” Tuttle’s sister told reporters. “Not one hot minute.”
The home of Tuttle and Nicholas seems to have fallen short of the heroin dealer den police likely expected to find. According to the Chronicle, police recovered from the scene several guns and “small amounts” of marijuana and white powder that later tested positive for cocaine. Police have not said whether the guns were legally purchased, and the exact amounts of marijuana and cocaine found have not been publicly released. Though the household’s suspected heroin stash served as the main legal basis for the raid, there is so far no indication that officers found any of the drug.
Acevedo revealed last week that an investigation into the drug raid found a 30-year veteran of the force lied in an affidavit to justify storming the house without warning. Officer Gerald Goines, who prepared the search warrant, has since been suspended and it’s unclear what charges he could face.
The official HPD narrative is likely the only one we’ll have. Acevedo said that none of the officers had been wearing body cameras during the raid. Tuttle and Nicholas will never be able to tell their side of the story. It was a bloody end to a dangerous operation, made possible by a police tactic that is as controversial as it is common, particularly in Texas.
No-knock raids become further complicated in a state like Texas, where it is not only legal to shoot at home invaders, but it is actively encouraged by gun proponents ranging from state legislators to influential pro-gun advocacy groups like the NRA and Texas Law Shield. Here, shooting back is often seen not simply as self-defense, but as flexing a constitutional right that must be exercised or else it will be taken away. When you combine that with unannounced entries, which are frequently used by police, it’s a wonder that no-knock raids don’t erupt in gunfire more often.
People are angry. Angry that the sworn affidavits submitted to win the legal right to bust into a couple’s private home appear to have been false. Angry that two of the officers involved handled thousands of other cases, which now must be reviewed by the Harris County District Attorney’s office. Angry that FBI civil rights division must now investigate our officers. Angry the city is likely facing enormous liability.
As state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, told the editorial board Friday, there are likely innocent men and women in prison as a result of tainted officers’ actions. “And there are probably more people who belong in jail whom we’ll have to let out. That’s what the constitution, our own conscience, will require us to do.”
He added: “There’s no question in my mind dope has been planted probably on innocent people. I think there is a huge amount of information that will come out that will make these cops look worse than they already do.”
Senator Whitmire is himself in controvery . In his capacity as chairman of the Texas Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee he quashed an internal investigation of a female state trooper with whom he had an affair, according to an amended federal lawsuit filed last month.
The lawsuit alleges that Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) intervened with Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw to terminate the investigation of Trooper Diane Martinez and Captain Rolando Rivas. Whitmire’s committee oversees DPS.
Evidence of widespread wrongdoing and cover-up is rampant across the state of Texas.
The FBI has officially begun a formal civil rights investigation into a botched drug raid that left two civilians dead and four police officers injured.
Acevedo expanded on his comments from earlier this week that he intended to end HPD’s use of no-knock raids, reading aloud the department’s new policy. “Effective immediately, prior to seeking judicial approval for a no-knock search warrant, the chief of police or his designee must approve the request,” Acevedo said at a press conference, while flanked by Mayor Sylvester Turner. “To the extent this policy conflicts with any other policy, this will supersede.”
While the new policy introduces an additional level of oversight before a no-knock warrant goes before a judge, it falls short of implementing stricter guidelines that would truly ensure the tactic is used more sparingly. It also remains unclear what, exactly, Acevedo (or his two assistant chief designees) might take into account when considering a no-knock warrant request. Rather than eliminating the tactic entirely, it seems HPD will continue to use no-knock raids to some extent.
The Houston narcotics officer at the center of an internal police investigation following a botched January drug raid has retired, his lawyer confirmed Friday.
Gerald Goines retired Friday afternoon while under investigation following the shooting deaths of two residents during a no-knock raid of a Pecan Park residence in south Houston on Jan. 28. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing more than 1,400 criminal cases he worked on over the course of his 34-year career.
Goines was shot, along with three other officers, one of whom remains hospitalized. Nicole DeBorde, the attorney representing Goines, confirmed her client’s retirement.
“He has quite an extensive recovery to deal with,” she said. “So instead of fighting with that and all the administrative issues, he decided it was time.”
Investigators later failed to find the confidential informant that police relied on to obtain a search warrant.
Goines, shot in the neck as he entered the private home, was relieved of duty after Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said the veteran officer appeared to have lied about the undercover drug buy that served as justification for the search warrant used by the squad to raid the house.
Officer Steven Bryant, a fellow officer who participated in the raid and was also relieved of duty as questions mounted, retired earlier this month.
In a search warrant for Bryant’s phone data, an investigator with HPD’s Special Investigations Unit wrote that Bryant told investigators he had retrieved two bags of heroin from the center console of Goines’ police car at the instruction of another officer.
That, however, was not consistent with the affidavit used to obtain the warrant for the Jan. 28 raid, in which Goines wrote that Bryant identified heroin brought out of the house.
Though he took the two bags of drugs for testing to determine that they were heroin, Bryant eventually told investigators he had never seen the narcotics in question before retrieving them from the car.
Goines’s retirement is the latest fallout from the deadly raid, and comes as Acevedo has launched a wide-ranging probe into the division and its operations following the raid. The FBI has launched a rare civil rights investigation into the operation.