Judge dismisses murder charges ex-Houston officer had faced over 2019 drug raid

HOUSTON (AP) — A former Houston police officer who led a 2019 deadly drug raid that prompted a probe which revealed systemic corruption problems within the police department’s narcotics unit and resulted in nearly two dozen convictions being overturned has won a legal victory after a judge dismissed two murder charges he had been facing in the case.

Gerald Goines had been set to go to trial in June on two counts of murder in the January 2019 deaths of Dennis Tuttle, 59, and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, 58. Prosecutors allege Goines had lied to obtain a search warrant by making up a confidential informant and wrongly portraying the couple as dangerous heroin dealers. This led to a deadly encounter in which Tuttle and Nicholas and their dog were fatally shot and police only found small amounts of marijuana and cocaine in the house. Five officers, including Goines, were injured in the raid.

But during a court hearing Tuesday, state District Judge Veronica Nelson dismissed the two indictments for murder that Goines, 59, faced. Goines has maintained his innocence in the case.

The ruling came after Goines’ lawyers argued prosecutors had used the underlying charge of tampering with a government record to indict him for murder. Goines’ lawyers, Nicole DeBorde and George Secrest, said the indictment was faulty because prosecutors had failed to identify which of the six separate subsections within the tampering charge Goines had violated.

The indictments “are fatally flawed and are literally riddled with a host of constitutional and statutory deficiencies which render them fundamentally defective,” Goines attorneys argued in court documents.

The Harris County Attorney’s Office said in a statement it was “shocked and tremendously disappointed” in Nelson’s ruling.

“The office is considering all its options, including amending the indictment, with an eye towards trying this case as soon as possible to ensure justice for the victims of these crimes,” the district attorney’s office said.

The families of Tuttle and Nicholas expressed disappointment, saying that “justice in the … killings remains a far-off prospect.”

“We’re now in a sixth year of a taxpayer-funded coverup of these murders. The Nicholas family still will not give up its ongoing fight to reveal the truth of what happened,” Mike Doyle, an attorney representing Nicholas’ family said in a statement.

Family and friends of Tuttle and Nicholas have maintained the married couple of 20 years were not criminals but animal lovers who lived quiet, simple lives when they were killed.

Federal civil rights lawsuits the families of Tuttle and Nicholas have filed against Goines and 12 other officers involved in the raid and the city of Houston are set to be tried in September.

A dozen officers, including Goines, tied to the narcotics squad that carried out the raid were later indicted following a corruption probe. Those charges are related to an alleged overtime scheme, allegations of falsifying documentation about drug payments to confidential informants or for allegedly lying on police reports. Nine of the officers were set for trial on these charges in September.

The deadly drug raid prompted Houston police to stop using “no-knock” warrants, which allow officers to enter a home without announcing themselves.

Since the raid, prosecutors have been reviewing thousands of cases handled by the narcotics unit.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned 22 convictions linked to Goines, with the most recent dismissal announced on Wednesday. In that case from 2014, Michael Gastile said he was innocent of selling Goines $20 worth of crack cocaine.

“If I had known that Goines was making up charges against other people during the same time he was lying about me, I would not have pleaded guilty,” Gastile said in court documents filed in December. “This conviction has had negative consequences in my life … I also suffer from PTSD and schizophrenia because of the mental aspect of spending time in prison for something I did not do.”

One of the other cases tied to Goines that remains under scrutiny is his 2004 drug arrest in Houston of George Floyd, whose 2020 death at the hands of a Minnesota police officer sparked a nationwide reckoning on racism in policing. A Texas board in 2022 declined a request that Floyd be granted a posthumous pardon for his drug conviction following his arrest by Goines.

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