A former Houston police officer has been charged with murder in connection with the deadly January drug raid of a home that killed a couple who lived there and injured five officers, prosecutors announced Friday.
Former Officer Gerald Goines, who was shot in the ensuing gunfight during the Jan. 28 raid, is charged with two counts of felony murder after police accused him of lying in a search warrant about having a confidential informant buying heroin at the home. Goines later acknowledged there was no informant and that he bought the drugs himself, authorities said.
Another former officer, Steven Bryant, was charged with tampering with a government record for allegedly providing false information in a report after the raid that supported Goines’ story about a confidential informant.
“We recognize that the community has been violated and I want to assure my fellow Houstonians and other residents of Harris County that we are getting to the truth,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said at a news conference. “Each day we uncover more and with each fact, we work toward doing justice.”
Goines’ attorney, Nicole DeBorde, did not immediately return a phone call or email seeking comment. But she has previously said Goines has done nothing wrong.
Andy Drumheller, Bryant’s attorney, said in an email that he had not yet seen the charge but he was “troubled that a person who wasn’t involved in drafting the affidavit for the search warrant, never fired his weapon and didn’t enter the home … was given a couple of hours notice that he’s been charged with a state jail felony on a Friday afternoon and needs to turn himself in.”
Both former officers surrendered to authorities Friday and appeared at a bond hearing. Goines was given bonds totaling $300,000 and Bryant was given a $50,000 bond. Drumheller said Bryant planned to post bond.
If convicted, Goines faces up to life in prison. Bryant faces up to two years in state jail.
At a separate news conference, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said the charges against the two ex-officers were a result of his agency’s investigation and are an example of how a police department can ask tough questions about its actions.
“We are a department that will vigorously pursue the rule of law, including holding our officers accountable as we did here,” Acevedo said.
Killed in the raid were Rhogena Nicholas, 58, and 59-year-old Dennis Tuttle, 59.
Family and friends of Tuttle and Nicholas have continuously dismissed allegations the couple sold drugs. Police found small amounts of marijuana and cocaine in the house, but no heroin.
Ogg offered an apology to the couple’s families.
“I want to tell them how sorry we are as a city and a county for the actions that resulted in the loss of their loved ones lives and that our work is dedicated to ensuring that their loved ones receive justice,” Ogg said.
In a statement, Michael Doyle and Charles Bourque, attorneys for the Nicholas family attorneys, called the charges against Goines and Bryant important developments but only the “beginning of the pursuit of justice” in the couple’s deaths.
Initially, Houston police maintained that after officers entered the home, Nicholas tried to take away a shotgun from an officer and was fatally shot by officers who saw what was happening. But an independent review by the family of Nicholas earlier this year cast doubt on that portrayal.
Following the shooting, prosecutors began reviewing more than 2,000 cases tied to Goines and Bryant. In June, prosecutors said their investigation has grown into a probe of 14,000 cases handled by the Houston Police Department’s narcotics division.
Both officers were relieved of duty after the shooting and later retired.
Ogg said prosecutors decided to file charges instead of waiting to present the case to a grand jury because they feared the two officers might flee the area and they feared for the safety of witnesses.
The case is still set to be presented to a grand jury in the next few weeks and the panel could file additional charges against the two officers or charges against other officers, Ogg said.
“The purpose of the broader investigation is … to determine if this was single act by rogue officers or whether it’s part of a greater and pre-existing problem in that squad,” Ogg said.
Acevedo said neither his agency’s investigation nor an ongoing probe by federal authorities has shown that the two ex-officers’ actions were part of a systemic problem within the police department.
Acevedo said he believes the officers who entered the home were also victims as they were led astray by the actions of two officers who “dishonored the badge.”
Source: Associated Press – Juan A. Lozano