Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Police Charged with Murder, Tampering with Document, in Homicide of Couple during No-Knock Raid in Houston

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has announced felony murder charges for former Sgt. Gerald Goins of Narcotics Squad 15, the Houston Police Department (HPD), in the homicides of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas. The married couple, who lived in their modest Houston home at 7815 Harding Street for 20 years, were killed with their dog in a no knock raid on January 28th. DA Ogg also announced former officer Steven Bryant has been charged with second degree tampering of a government document.

Both officers retired two months after the raid, as the investigation into the raid proceeded.

The video of the press conference is 26 minutes long. 

At every turn of the investigation of the 28 January raid, where the married couple were killed, and four officers wounded, more questions are raised and more disturbing facts uncovered.

We know the no-knock warrant was fraudulent. Both Houston Police Chief Acevedo and District Attorney Ogg acknowledge this fact. We know no significant amount of drugs or cash was found at 7815 Harding Street. We know most of the neighbors did not see anything suspicious, and knew Dennis Tuttle as a medically discharged Navy man, and Rhogena Nicholas as a caring, believing Christian wife, who sent a prayer to her mother every day.  The neighbors said the couple kept to themselves, with few visitors. We know the only heroine found in relation to the raid was heroine found in Sgt. Goines Houston Police Department vehicle.

We know it was the police that fired the first shot, killing the couple's dog, after they broke down the door without warning. Breaking in without warning is the point of a no-knock raid.

In the press conference, delivered with confidence and authority by District Attorney Ogg, several facts were highlighted.

The no-knock warrant for the raid was approved by a municipal judge. No member of the Harris County District Attorney's office saw or had anything to do with the warrant until after the raid occurred. DA Ogg was careful to make this point early.

The raid was carried out by HPD narcotics squad 15. There were 10 members of the squad at the raid. 

Sgt. Gerald Goines prepared a tactical plan to be carried out by Goines and the other nine members of squad 15. Goines briefed the squad the white man at the target was known to carry a handgun and there was a large dog that could cause a problem. Four members of the squad were shot, including Goines, who was wounded in the neck, in such a way that he communicated with investigators, in the hospital, by writing.

Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas were both killed with multiple gunshot wounds. Their deaths were homicides. Because their deaths were predicated during the commission of a felony (the fraudulent warrant), former officer Goines is being charged with two counts of felony murder.

DA Ogg reported, two days after the raid, Officer Steven Bryant wrote a supplement to the report. In it, he claimed he had assisted Goines just the day before. He claimed he recovered a bag with heroine. Bryant claimed he recognized the drugs as being purchased by the CI two days before. Ogg says all those claims were false.

The Texas Rangers presented evidence to the District Attorney's office about who was responsible for the gunshot wounds to the four members of narcotics Squad 15. The findings will be presented to the grand jury being convened by the DA's office, to investigate the raid. In this extraordinary case, charges were made against former Officer Goines and former officer Bryant, in the interest of the safety of the public and informants, before the grand jury was convened. Both suspects were known to have active passports and access to their retirement money.

As the investigation unfolded, former officer (then Sgt. Goines) claimed a confidential informant made the buy. That informant denied it happened. Then Goines claimed it was a different confidential informant. That informant denied it. It was not stated how many confidential informants Goines claimed made the buy. They all denied it.

Goines later admitted there was no confidential informant. He claimed he personally made the drug buy.

Goines affirmed that Steve Bryant never identified the drugs. 

Goines said he could not identify Dennis Tuttle as the person he purchased the drugs from.

The interview was taped. Goines answered in writing.

Former officer Goines has been charged with two counts of felony murder.

Former officer Steven Bryant has been charged with one count of second degree tampering with a government document. The intent of the false entry was to defraud the public.

Both former officers have surrendered to the authorities. Bail has been set at $300,000 for Goines and $50,000 for Bryant.

Images from Houston Police Department, source nbcnews.com, 23 August, 2019, combined, cropped and scaled by Dean Weingarten.

A Harris County grand jury will investigate this incident and to see if there are further incidents that should be prosecuted. They will determine if any others of the 10 members of the raid should be charged.  They will determine if there was a greater, preexisting problem in Houston Narcotics P.D.

DA Ogg emphasized this is only the first step of the investigation. There will be an in depth review of the HPD narcotics division and especially Squad 15. It is not known if more arrests will occur.

DA Ogg apologized to the family members of the victims. She wanted them to know how sorry she was that this had happened. She said the investigation is only starting, and a motive for the fraudulent warrant and raid were unknown at this time. She emphasized that, often, motive is the last thing discovered during an investigation.

DA Ogg said the Harding street address came to the Narcotics Squad's attention because of  a telephone call from a neighbor. Rumors had circulated that Rhogena's mother had made the call. It appears those rumors were false.

At least one confidential informant (CI) has cooperated. DA Ogg may have slipped when she referred to the CI as "she". That narrows the potential pool of CI candidates, for those wishing to determine her identity.

The DA grand jury investigation will look into many previous cases. Narcotics Squad 15 has ties to 14,000 cases. At minimum they are reviewing all of approximately 2,000 cases that involve former officer Goines.

No immunity has been granted. No grand jury presentation has yet been made. The investigation is to determine if this was a pattern or a single instance. Other individuals have come forward with complaints about former officer Goines.

Police Chief Acevedo held a press conference shortly after the press conference by DA Ogg. He said the raid was conducted in good faith, that it was only two officers making bad decisions, that there is no evidence of systemic problems in the department. He claimed the case showed the HPD was perfectly capable of investigating itself. The facts seem to contradict that claim.

The forensic investigation of the raid, by the Houston Forensic Science Center, left considerable evidence at the scene, according to an independent forensic investigation commissioned by the family of the victims. The independent investigation occurred in May, about four months after the forensic data collection by the Houston Forensic Science Center (HFSC).  The CEO of the HFSC, Peter Stout, admitted that items might have been missed. From houstonpublicmedia.org:
HPD’s report on the shooting has not been publicly released. A police spokesman declined comment, pending the continuing internal affairs investigation.

The president and CEO of the Houston Forensic Science Center, Peter Stout, told News 88.7 a dozen investigators collected more than 220 items and took more than 2,200 photos and videos.

He said it was a chaotic scene and acknowledges things could have been missed.

“At the time of a scene and even for some time after processing the scene, things that may not be important to the investigation at the time may become important as other information comes in,” Stout said. “Everyone has to look at what are the best things to try and collect at that time.”
From a previous article at Ammoland
The independent investigators were able to recover a cell phone video of the event. The most provocative evidence claimed from the video, is two shots were fired almost 30 minutes after the raid started. The investigators claim it was shortly after those shots were fired, the police at the scene said that “Both suspects were down”.  The private investigators found evidence that two shots were fired inside the home, into the back wall of the dining room, from very close range, contrary to police versions of the event. In total, the private investigators recovered more than 10 bullets from inside the Harding Street house.  From houstoncronicle.com 24 July, 2019: 
The independent review, released in a court filing Thursday, also highlighted the perplexing presence of two bullet holes in an inner room of the home, shot into the wall from inches away but more than four yards from the shootout by the front door.
Taken in conjunction with video footage that appears to have captured the sound of two shots half an hour after the gunbattle, family attorney Mike Doyle argued in a 22-page legal petition that the independent findings raise enough questions to merit further investigation in preparation for a lawsuit.
The independent investigators say they did not find evidence of people inside the house firing toward the outside.
The independent investigators recovered two teeth, they say belonged to Dennis Tuttle, inside the house. The autopsy of Dennis Tuttle should reveal if he was shot in the head and if he was missing teeth as a result.
The independent investigators reported their findings to a judge on 24 July, 2019.  It is no coincidence that Harris County District Attorney's Office investigators and Texas Rangers visted the 7815 Harding street residence on July 24th to learn more about the incident. From houstonchronicle.com:
The news comes the same day investigators from the DA’s Office and the Texas Rangers returned to the Harding Street residence to gather more evidence six months after the shooting.
In spite of Chief Acevedo's claim the HPD has shown it can investigate itself, both private investigators hired by the family, and the Harris County DA and the Texas Rangers have been investigating and finding additional, important, evidence. There is the ongoing federal investigation, where a federal grand jury has been empanelled. In late July, it became known that a federal grand jury was investigating the case. 
Two Houston police officers testified Wednesday before a federal grand jury regarding the botched drug raid that left two homeowners dead — the first sign that federal prosecutors are pursuing criminal charges in the controversial case.

Houston Police Officers’ Union Vice President Doug Griffith confirmed that the two officers appeared before the grand jury, though their testimony is secret by law. Grand jury investigations can last weeks or months.
That is three investigations independent of the HPD. First, the family commissioned an independent forensic investigation.  Then the Harris County District Attorney's office's investigation, who will now impanel a grand jury. They hired 10 additional investigators for this purpose.  Third, the parallel investigation, with a federal grand jury, by the federal government. Four independent investigations should be able to reach conclusions about the truth of what happened, and if there have been systemic problems in either Squad 15 or the HPD Narcotics division, or HPD as a whole.  Shortcomings of one investigation should be overcome by other investigations.

DA Ogg said there is a potential motive for the incident, but it is too early to tell if it is correct.

Four items stand out. Forgive the indulgence in speculation.

First: The HPD Chief Acevedo and Harris County DA Ogg are independent of each other. Chief Acevedo does not support DA Ogg's investigation, or he would not claim the HPD had been vindicated in investigating itself.

Second: If former Officer Goines had not been wounded, the heroine found in his HPD vehicle might have been found at the 7815 Harding Street address instead. 

Third: How did former officer Bryant know he needed to falsify the record about the raid, unless he knew the raid was fraudulent before it happened? If the raid was simply an error, why falsify the document?

Fourth: If former officers Goines and his partner, Bryant, had been able to communicate immediately after the raid (they could not, because Goines was in the hospital and could not talk, due to his wound), it is plausible none of this would have been known. Goines could have conspired with Bryant to convince or pressure a CI to claim they had purchased the drugs. They could have coordinated their story.

They could not do so. Four other members of Squad 15 were hurt, three by gunshot. We do not know if anything was prevented by their hospitalization. With five of 10 members of the raid taken out of action, the ability for potential cover-up was limited.

In the United States, former officer Goines, former officer Bryant, and all members of Squad 15 are due the presumption of innocence before conviction. There may be innocent explanations, or mitigating circumstances of which we are currently unaware.  It may be other members of the Squad (the four wounded all had 20 or more years in the Narcotics Division) were simply doing their job, as Chief Acevedo contends.

All members of the Squad should be forbidden to communicate with each other, to prevent collusion or witness intimidation, until the investigations are completed. This should be possible as a condition of their employment in the HPD. 

The investigations should reveal much over the next few months.

©2019 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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ScienceABC123 said...

"... the only heroine found in relation to the raid was heroine found in Sgt. Goines Houston Police Department vehicle."

The only reason for the heroine in the Police car is that it was to be used to frame the dead couple. And the only reason the Police would bring it is because they knew they wouldn't find any at the couple's house.

Anonymous said...

I'm unclear on a couple of things: who shot Goines? Did the owner of the house come out shooting? Did the female victim engage? Were either of the dead's hands swabbed for gunshot residue? If so, what were the results? This is an ugly case, and it will get uglier.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dean,
I posted a comment on the Ammoland site where I first saw your article on the Tuttle murders, but I don't know if you saw it, so I am reiterating it here. I read your blog daily and have for years. I am deeply grateful for the exceptional quality and expertise of your posts, and the many other informative offerings you have made available. I have followed the Tuttle murders since the story first broke. Your update post was excellent and much appreciated. I also appreciate the video link you supplied of the DA's public statement. She seems very sincere and it sounds like justice will be pursued. I also commend your handgun vs bear spray presentation. This real world view and hard evidence was much needed, and you did a superb job of presenting it. Thank you for your invaluable service. Best regards, Homer

Dean Weingarten said...

Thank you for your kind remarks.

Anonymous said...

Wait for the Parade, Look for the clowns. I'm going to watch this unfold and see if anything important actually happens. I personally demand fair trials for any one and justice for every one. I have seen far too many cops go scot free for numerous crimes . a badge is not a license to kill. A badge does not make you a weapons expert or a top marksman. A badges does not make you above the law A badge can be pinned on any human and increases that humans responsibility to be the best. It is not an excuse for bad behavior. My ex business partner would hunt out of season. I called him on his illegal behavior. He told me "nobody will site me" if they do my buddies will write his wife so many traffic citations she wont be able to afford to drive. we cover each others back". any cop that Tampers with evidence should be sentenced to the same penalty for the crime the evidence is related to. The Bible tells us it is better to let 100 guilty go free than to convict one innocent person. Promotions should not be based on conviction rates. The same goes for attorneys that withhold exculpatory evidence to get a conviction. Our legal system really needs a clean up. Unless you have exposure to the legal system You will never understand how it is decaying.