HOUSTON (AP) — An independent review by the family of a woman who along with her husband were killed in a drug raid earlier this year by Houston police is casting doubts on how authorities have portrayed the deadly shooting, attorneys said Thursday.
The Jan. 28 drug raid in which 58-year-old Rhogena Nicholas and her 59-year-old husband, Dennis Tuttle, were fatally shot in their home and five officers were injured came under scrutiny after police alleged one of the officers who was shot, Gerald Goines, lied in a search warrant about having a confidential informant buy heroin at the home. The informant told investigators no such drug buy took place.
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 home but no heroin.
At a news conference Thursday, attorneys for Nicholas’ family said a forensic review of the crime scene found evidence contradicting how the shooting took place and how long it took to finish. The attorneys also discovered two bullet holes that might have been caused after the couple was killed.
“The physical evidence … does not line up with the story we heard relayed by the police department for whatever reason,” said Michael Doyle, one of the Nicholas family attorneys.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo declined to comment on the family’s findings.
“We have completed our criminal investigation and are fully cooperating and working collaboratively with the FBI and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office as they conduct separate independent investigations,” Acevedo said in a statement.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement that “while we welcome any information about the incident … we caution everyone to wait for all the evidence to be brought forth before making a decision about what happened that day and who is responsible.”
The district attorney’s office is still completing its investigation and has not presented its case to a grand jury. But a federal grand jury has begun hearing evidence, including testimony this week from two Houston police officers.
“From the beginning, all I want is the truth, some kind of closure, hope this don’t happen again,” John Nicholas, Rhogena Nicholas’ brother, said at Thursday’s news conference.
Houston police have maintained that after officers entered the home, Rhogena Nicholas tried to take away a shotgun from an officer and was fatally shot by officers who saw what was happening.
But Doyle said a forensic scientist and former investigator with the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service who was hired by the Nicholas family found she was shot by someone who had fired through a wall from outside the couple’s home and could not have seen what was going on inside. Doyle said the bullet that killed Nicholas was one of more than 10 that were found in the home during the independent review and were apparently missed by police investigators.
The family’s investigation also found that in cellphone video taken by a neighbor, two gunshots can be heard that were fired almost 30 minutes after the gun battle had ended. Doyle said this seems to contradict Houston police claims the shooting was over within minutes.
Nicholas’ family attorneys have suggested these two gunshots on the video might explain two mysterious bullet holes they found in a back wall inside the home that were fired at close range into the wall. But Doyle said it’s unlikely Tuttle fired the shots as his body was found 14 feet away.
The findings of the independent review are part of a petition Nicholas’ family filed on Thursday in probate court in Houston.
The petition, which seeks to depose police officials and obtain other evidence in the case, is part of legal groundwork the family is laying for a possible lawsuit.
Following the shooting, prosecutors began reviewing more than 2,000 cases tied to Goines and another officer connected to the drug raid. Last month, 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. Goines’ attorney has said he has done nothing wrong.
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