A former Houston police officer was charged with two counts of murder for allegedly lying to justify warrants for a January drug raid that killed two people and wounded five officers, prosecutors said Friday.
Former narcotics officer Gerald Goines allegedly fabricated information in order to obtain the search warrants on the belief that suspects in a home were dealing black-tar heroin. The raid resulted in a shootout that killed the house's two occupants, Dennis Tuttle, 59, and Rhogena Nicholas, 58, and their dog.
Goines was charged with two counts of murder, while his former partner Steven Bryant was charged with tampering with a government record, Harris County prosecutors said.
"Under Texas law, if, during the commission of one felony, in this case tampering of a government record, a person commits an act clearly dangerous to human life ... that causes the death of another, in his case two deaths, it's first degree murder," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg told reporters.
"We call that felony murder. Today, we charged Gerald Goines with two counts of felony murder."
Both men turned themselves in Friday afternoon, NBC affiliate KPRC of Houston reported. Prosecutors will ask for $250,000 bail for Goines and $100,000 for Bryant, Ogg said.
Police documents say the warrant for the Harding Street home was justified by claims that a confidential informant bought heroin there and saw a weapon. Investigators trying to find that informant were given two names by Goines, who was one of the five officers wounded in the raid.
Both informants denied working on that case or buying drugs at that address.
Goines later admitted there was no confidential informant and he was the one who purchased the drugs, according to prosecutors.
"The interview was taped," Ogg said. "He answered in writing."
Bryant was accused of making false claims after the raids to help cover for Goines, prosecutors said.
Both officers later retired.
"The eyes of this community and the nation are on this case," Ogg said. "It is critical to the public trust that we reveal the true facts about what, how and why two civilians were killed in their own home by members of the Houston Police Narcotics Squad 15."
Family and friends of Tuttle and Nicholas have always maintained the two never sold drugs. Small amounts of marijuana and cocaine were found in the house but no heroin.
Attorneys for the Nicholas family in a statement called the indictments "important developments, but they should be only the beginning of the pursuit of justice in the police killings of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle."
The attorneys said they are still seeking sworn depositions of two other police officials and other police personnel involved in the management of HPD Narcotics Squad 15.
"The Nicholas family is grateful for the work of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office as well as all city, state and federal law enforcement personnel committed to a complete investigation of this terrible incident," the Nicholas family lawyers said. "They remain hopeful that the justice system will succeed in helping prevent other families from ordeals like theirs."
During a community meeting in February, Houston police Chief Art Acevedo vowed to end the practice of "no-knock" search warrants. He said officers will need to request a special exemption from his office to conduct a no-knock raid.
Acevedo said at a Friday news conference about the charges that it was with "a heavy heart that we're here but it’s also with a sense of pride in our organization, in that we don't bury our heads in the sand at the Houston Police Department."
"When we have an incident where four police officers are shot, another one's seriously injured, and two individuals, Mr. Tuttle and Ms. Nicholas, are shot and killed in a house, we ask tough questions," Acevedo said.
He said the police department had been expecting the charges for some time, and that the charges are the result of a Houston police investigation.
"We did pursue the good, the bad and the ugly — as we promised to this community," Acevedo said. He said the police department has "zero tolerance" for police officers that would breach the public trust and their oath of office and commit crimes. He said more charges could be filed in the case.
Acevedo said one of the officers who was wounded faces life-changing injuries, including possible paralysis from the waist down. He said the police officers were executing what they thought was a lawful warrant and came under fire.
Ogg announced in February that the office would review more than 1,400 criminal cases spanning Goines' decadeslong career. Prosecutors said in April that 27 of those cases, which were pending at the time, would be dropped.