A second Houston police officer has been charged with murder and is among additional officers who have been indicted as part of an ongoing investigation into a Houston Police Department narcotics unit following a deadly 2019 drug raid, prosecutors announced Monday. In all, a dozen officers tied to the narcotics unit have been indicted after their work came under scrutiny following the January 2019 drug raid in which Dennis Tuttle, 59, and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, 58, were killed.
“The consequences of corruption are two innocent ordinary people were killed in their homes, four police officers were shot, one of them paralyzed and now all of them will face Harris County jurors who will decide their fate,” said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.
Officer Felipe Gallegos was indicted for murder in Tuttle’s death. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison, Ogg said.
Rusty Hardin, an attorney for Gallegos, declined to comment on the case Monday.
Five other officers were indicted Monday for their roles in an alleged scheme to steal overtime payments as part of their work with the narcotics squad.
Three of the officers – Oscar Pardo, Cedell Lovings and Nadeem Ashraf – face first degree felony charges of engaging in organized criminal activity related to theft of a public servant and tampering with a governmental record. They face up to life in prison if convicted.
Two other officers – Frank Medina and Griff Maxwell – face second-degree felonies on these same charges and could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has said a lead investigator lied in an affidavit justifying the drug raid. On Monday Acevedo released a statement after the new charges were announced, saying the officer indicted for murder Monday “had no involvement in obtaining the warrant and responded appropriately to the deadly threat” posed during the raid.
Ogg said grand jurors on Monday also indicted three retired officers who had been indicted last year on different charges in connection with the case. Two of these officers – Clemente Reyna and Thomas Wood – were indicted on first degree felony charges of engaging in organized criminal activity related to theft of a public servant and tampering with a governmental record. The third retired officer – Hodgie Armstrong – was indicted on second-degree felonies on these same charges.
Two former members of the unit – Gerald Goines and Steven Bryant – had previously been charged in state and federal court in the case, including two counts of felony murder filed in state court against Goines. Another former officer, Lt. Robert Gonzales, was indicted last year.
Prosecutors allege their investigation discovered that the indicted officers were part of a unit that falsified documentation about drug payments to confidential informants, routinely used false information to get search warrants, and lied in police reports.
Prosecutors have accused Goines of lying to obtain the warrant to search the home belonging to Tuttle and Nicholas. Goines claimed a confidential informant had bought heroin at the home. But the informant told investigators no such drug buy ever happened, authorities said. Police found small amounts of marijuana and cocaine in the house, but no heroin.
When officers entered the home using a “no-knock” warrant that didn’t require them to announce themselves before entering, they were met with gunfire. Friends of Tuttle and Nicholas say they were not criminals and have suggested that the couple might have thought they were being attacked by intruders.
Five officers, including Goines, were injured in the raid.
In a statement Monday, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo blamed the faulty search warrant on Goines and Bryant and said the other officers, including Gallegos, “responded appropriately to the deadly threat posed to them during (the warrant’s) service.”
A spokesman for the Houston Police Officers’ Union did not immediately return an email seeking comment Monday. The union has previously called the charges against the former officers a political ploy by Ogg.
Attorneys for family members of Tuttle and Nicholas have conducted their own investigation of the raid and have been battling the city and police department in court over requests for documents and depositions of agency officials.
“These latest indictments confirm some of the findings from the families’ independent investigation, and yet again raises two questions: how high does the corruption of (the narcotics squad) go and why has the city and (Houston police) fought so hard, still, to conceal the basic facts about what happened before, during and after the murderous raid?” Michael Doyle, one of the Nicholas family attorneys, said in a statement.
Since the raid, prosecutors have been reviewing thousands of cases handled by the narcotics unit.
More than 160 drug convictions tied to Goines have been dismissed by prosecutors.
An audit made public in July of the narcotics unit found that officers often weren’t thorough in their investigations and overpaid informants for the seizure of minuscule amounts of drugs.
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