by Kevin Bliss
The Houston Police Department (“HPD”) is being accused of sloppy investigations surrounding the details of a warrant executed in January 2019, which resulted in the deaths of homeowners Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas in a botched no-knock drug raid. In addition, four officers were shot, and one injured his knee.
Investigators hired by relatives of the couple conducted an independent search of the home three months after the HPD, the FBI, and Harris County District Attorney’s Office finished theirs.
The new forensics team, led by retired Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent Mike Maloney, found dozens of potential pieces of evidence overlooked by the original team, as well as evidence that might discredit the statements of the police at the scene.
Shell casings, bullet trajectories, and blood-splatter evidence discovered by Maloney’s team led to questions of the haphazard investigation conducted by the HPD and other agencies. Attorney Mike Doyle, representing the Nicholas family, said, “It doesn’t appear that they took the basic steps to confirm and collect the physical evidence to know whether the police were telling the truth. That’s the whole point of forensic scene documentation. That’s the basic check on people just making stuff up.”
Criminal justice professor Sam Walker of University of Nebraska was concerned about others whose cases may have been as poorly investigated. “How many people have been convicted over the years as a result of sloppy investigations, which failed to collect evidence that was there that would have exonerated the suspect?” he asked. “If they do it in this kind of homicide case, what do they do in other kinds of investigations?”
Gerald Goines retired from the force under allegations that he lied on the warrant about a drug buy at the house. The warrant initiated the series of events in which police stated they burst into the front door shooting a pit bull lunging at them when Tuttle came running from the back of the house firing a .357 Magnum.
Police returned fire, striking Tuttle and Nicholas (whom they said was trying to disarm Goines), killing both.
Evidence collected by Maloney indicated that no weapon was fired from the back of the house, only user-level cocaine and marijuana was found, and that the dog was shot from over 15 feet away. Tuttle’s Magnum was not even cataloged as evidence recovered from the scene. Results suggested that the police were reckless and unjustified and that at least some officers who suffered from gunshot wounds probably did so by their colleagues.
Sources: reason.com, houstonchronicle.com, abc13.com
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