Houston, TX – A retired Houston police officer has been charged with murder in connection with a shootout that left two people dead and four officers wounded.
Now-former Houston Police Officer Gerald Goines allegedly provided “some material untruths or lies” to obtain a search warrant that led to the deadly gun battle, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in January, according to NBC News.
Although police “had reason to investigate” the home of 59-year-old Dennis Tuttle and 58-year-old Rhogena Nicholas, the lead investigator allegedly concocted false information in the affidavit used to secure the warrant for the drug raid,” Chief Acevedo said at the time.
Tuttle and Nicholas opened fire on police during the Jan. 28 raid, wounding four officers and injuring a fifth, before they were both fatally shot by police.
"Thus far it appears that there are some material untruths or lies in that affidavit, and that's a problem," Chief Acevedo confirmed. "That's totally unacceptable."
According to court documents, the allegedly untruthful information in the affidavit was provided by 54-year-old Officer Goines, a 34-year veteran of the department, ABC News reported.
Officer Goines, who was shot in the neck during the encounter, had been shot on two other occasions in the line of duty in the past.
In his application for the search warrant, Officer Goines claimed he had conducted a controlled buy of heroin at the home using a confidential informant.
He wrote that he sent the confidential informant inside the residence to buy the drugs on Jan. 27, The New York Times reported.
When the informant came out, he handed the suspected heroin over to Officer Goines, the affidavit read, according to ABC News.
In the wake of the deadly shootout, Officer Goines provided internal investigators with the alleged informant’s name.
But when the investigators met with the informant, he said that he never worked with Officer Goines on that particular case.
The investigators went back and confronted the veteran officer with their findings, at which point he provided them with the name of a different informant, according to the internal investigation.
The investigators ultimately interviewed all of Officer Goines’ confidential informants.
“All denied making a buy for Goines from the residence located at 7815 Harding Street, and ever purchasing narcotics from Rhogena Nicholas or Dennis Tuttle,” the internal investigation read, according to ABC News.
According to prosecutors, Goines later admitted that he made the drug purchase himself without the use of an informant, and allegedly said that he wasn’t sure if Tuttle was the same person who he’d made the purchase from, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Detectives first became aware that Tuttle and Nicholas were allegedly dealing drugs out of their home about two weeks before the search warrant was executed, after a concerned mother called 911 to report that her daughter was using drugs at their Harding Street residence, ABC News reported.
"We weren't there willy-nilly," Chief Acevedo noted. “This was not just an investigator deciding to go target a house – as far as we’ve determined so far – for no reason.”
The chief said a group of 15 undercover narcotics officers made entry to the home just before 5 p.m. on Jan. 28 and “immediately came under fire.”
“The first officer through the door, armed with a shotgun, was charged immediately by a very large pit bull,” Chief Acevedo said. “The officer discharged rounds, and we know the dog was struck and killed.”
Simultaneously, Tuttle came from somewhere in the back of the house and opened fire on the officer with a .357 Magnum revolver, KHOU reported.
The officer was hit.
“That officer was struck in the shoulder. He went down, fell on the sofa in the living room, at which time a female suspect went towards that officer, reached over the officer and started making a move for his shotgun,” Chief Acevedo explained to reporters.
Backup arrived at that point and opened fire, fatally shooting Nicholas as she tried to take a wounded officer’s weapon, ABC News reported.
As a gun battle ensued with Tuttle, some officers laid down cover fire while other officers “heroically pulled their fellow officers out of harm’s way,” Chief Acevedo said.
Tuttle was killed in the gunfight.
Four officers were shot, and another officer seriously injured his knee during the incident.
Investigators seized three rifles, two shotguns, marijuana, and a powdery substance believed to be either fentanyl or cocaine from inside the home, ABC News reported.
Goines has been charged with two counts of felony murder because Tuttle and Nicholas were killed while he was allegedly committing another offense of tampering with a government record by obtaining one under false pretenses, the New York Daily News reported.
Prosecutors do not have to prove that Goines intended to kill Tuttle and Nicholas for a felony murder charge like they would for a traditional murder offense, according to the Houston Chronicle.
In order for him to be convicted, the state only has to prove that he committed a dangerous act that resulted in a death while he was committing another felony.
Goines faces a potential death sentence if convicted, the New York Daily News reported.
Houston Police Officer Steven Bryant, 45, has been charged with tampering with evidence for allegedly lying in a police report pertaining to the case, ABC News reported.
"Bryant's claims were false," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg declared. "He further fabricated that two days after the raid on the Harding Street residence that he recovered a plastic bag that contained a white napkin and two small packets of a brown powdery substance that he knew, based on his skill and expertise, contained heroin. Bryant claimed that he recognized the drugs as the same drugs allegedly purchased by Goines' [criminal informant] the day before, Jan. 27. That was false."
Goines and Bryant, a 23-year veteran-of-the-force, both retired from the department while under investigation, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“The eyes of this community and the nation are on this case,” Ogg said in a statement, according to the New York Daily News. “It is critical to the public trust that we reveal the true facts about what, how and why two civilians were killed in their own home by members of the Houston Police Narcotics Squad 15.”
During a court hearing on Monday, Goines’ attorney, Nicole DeBorde, said that she looks forward to “vigorously defending” the longtime officer, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“I absolutely and firmly believe that Mr. Goines is innocent of these crimes,” DeBorde said.
Both retired officers were booked into jail and released on bond last Friday evening, ABC News reported.
Goines has been ordered to wear a GPS monitor, abide by a curfew, surrender his passport, and undergo drug testing while his case is pending, according to the Houston Chronicle.
He must also abide by a curfew, and cannot possess firearms.
DeBorde blasted Ogg for filing the charges against the former officer directly, as opposed to presenting the case to a grand jury, the Houston Chronicle reported.
She also criticized the prosecutor for recommending a high bond.
In February, Chief Acevedo announced his plan to do away with most “no-knock warrants” like the one Goines was conducting at the time of the shootout.
"The no-knock warrants are going to go away like leaded gasoline in this city," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo promised a group of activists at an event organized by the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice, according to the Houston Chronicle.
No-knock warrants mean that officers don't have to wait for suspects to answer the door before making entry, but they are still required to identify themselves and announce their presence.
Chief Acevedo said he would have to personally approve any no-knock raids.
"I'm 99.9 percent sure we won't be using them," he said. "If for some reason there would be a specific case, that would come from my office."
Critics said that Chief Acevedo’s announcement of his decision to do away with no-knock warrants is a knee-jerk reaction in the face of public criticism.
Retired Washington Metro Transit Police Special Response Team Commander William Malone told Blue Lives Matter that warrant squads use no-knock warrants for their own safety.
“It’s the element of surprise,” Malone explained. “Where there’s drugs, there’s guns. Drug dealers are habitually armed – especially in their own cribs.”
He said that if officers do a standard knock-and-announce, the suspects on the other side of the door have time to arm themselves, further barricade the residence, and even destroy evidence.
Malone, a 30-year veteran of his department, told Blue Lives Matter the execution was the problem with the no-knock warrant in the Jan. 28 raid in Houston.
“A bunch of undercover guys who are very good at undercover things are not necessarily good at no-knock entries,” he said. “If you’re going to execute no-knocks, you need a designated group of officers who train together, who work together, and who are properly equipped to execute these types of warrants.”
“Putting on a raid vest and knocking down a door does not make for a SWAT team entry,” Malone said.