by Kevin Bliss
The Houston Police Department (“HPD”) conducted a no-knock search at the home of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas early this year. Heroin was allegedly being sold out of the home and the owners reportedly possessed a weapons’ stash. At the end of the raid, Tuttle and Nicholas were dead, four officers had been shot and no heroin was found in the home.
HPD stated that they had received an anonymous phone call saying that the caller’s daughter had been in the home shooting heroin and that there was a collection of weapons inside. The narcotics squad investigated the house for two weeks, then paid a confidential informant to buy drugs at the home. The informant came out with some brown powder that tested positive for heroin. He stated that he had purchased it from a middle-aged man carrying a gun and that there was more in the home “packaged in a large quantity of plastic bags.”
A no-knock warrant was applied for based on no more than the prior credibility of the informant. At 5 p.m. January 28, police stormed the home. An officer broke down the door and was attacked by a pit bull. The officer shot the dog, and Tuttle came from the back of the home with a .357 Magnum and shot the officer in the shoulder. Nicholas attempted to grab the fallen officer’s shotgun when the rest of the unit stormed the door, shooting and killing Nicholas. Tuttle began exchanging gunfire with police, injuring several before being fatally shot.
This is a controversial Texas law enforcement tactic, used when it's considered dangerous to enter a home or suspects might buy time to destroy evidence. Yet critics argue the tactic itself creates a dangerous situation. Many civil rights advocacy groups in Texas encourage civilians to exercise their constitutional right to self-defense or they may lose that right. During this violent and confusing melee, it is hard to discern immediately who is a police officer and who is simply an intruder. A Times investigation showed that 31 civilians and eight officers were killed in no-knock raids within a six-year period. A 2014 ACLU study stated, “no-knock warrants were used (or probably used) in about 60 percent of the incidents in which SWAT teams were searching for drugs, even though many resulted in the SWAT team finding no drugs or small quantities of drugs”.
Tuttle, 59, and Nicholas, 58, had been married for 20 years. Neither had been convicted of any crime except a dismissed misdemeanor against Nicholas in 2010. Tuttle was a military vet dishonorably discharged from the Navy with debilitating injuries received in service. Tuttle’s sister and Nicholas’ first husband both stated that the couple did not do drugs and were not heroin dealers.
HPD Union President Joe Gamaldi was criticized by many, including Houston police Chief Art Acevedo, for his inflammatory remarks against critics of law enforcement policing and use-of-force policies. “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,” he said.
Ashton Woods, founder of Black Lives Matter in Houston, stated, “They want to over-police the community. They think they are preventing crime when they are really creating larger problems with community relations. It seems like a police state. They need to be reined in, and we need to know more about the way they are policing.”
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