2 relatives died without seeing Harding Street couple's names cleared 5 years on

Miya Shay Image
Tuesday, January 30, 2024
2 relatives died without seeing Harding raid couple's names cleared
Sunday, January 28, marks five years since the fatal HPD raid at a Harding St. house that killed Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Sometimes, January 28, 2019, seems like just a day ago.

"And in sometimes, it feels like ages," Jo Ann Nicholas, a mother who is still grieving over the loss of her daughter, Rhogena, said. "But, every day, I miss her."

The 89-year-old isn't alone in her painful memories of that fateful day five years ago. Hundreds of miles away, Ryan Tuttle, Dennis' son, also remembers.

"I was watching the news, and I noticed that there was something going on on Harding Street. I immediately tuned into that and started calling my dad," Ryan Tuttle said.

But Dennis Tuttle never picked up the phone. On that fateful January afternoon, a Houston Police Department narcotics squad, led by lead case agent Gerald Goines, executed a no-knock warrant at the home where Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas lived.

Gunfire ensued. And when the bullets stopped flying, Rhogena, Dennis, and their dog were dead. Several officers, including Goines, were hurt, too.

The warrant signed off by a judge that allowed the no-knock raid would later be found to contain bogus information - that the couple were hardcore heroin dealers.

But their families say nothing was further from the truth.

"I would've known if my dad was a drug dealer," Ryan Tuttle said. "He absolutely was not. He's a very sweet, very loving, and peaceful person, not a drug dealer."

In fact, there would be no heroin found. Within 24 hours, the story painted by Houston police began falling apart.

Jo Ann Nicholas, living in the small town of Natchitoches, Louisiana, knew her daughter wasn't a drug dealer.

"I knew from the beginning it wasn't her. They didn't have drugs. I knew because Dennis stayed in bed most of the time because he had seizures," Jo Ann Nicholas said.

Dennis Tuttle, a Navy veteran, suffered an industrial accident years prior and was disabled, his son said.

In the months that followed, Goines would be charged with murder in state court and violating civil rights in federal court. Goines' then-partner, Steven Bryant, was also charged. He has since pleaded guilty in federal court but has yet to be sentenced.

Numerous other officers would also be charged, mostly with allegations of overtime theft that were uncovered as part of the investigation.

Still, on the fifth anniversary of the botched Harding Street raid, nobody has gone to trial for murder. The cases continue to drag on.

"I'm here to remind everyone that these five years, our family has been unable to receive any answers to achieve any closure," Cliff Tuttle, Dennis' uncle and a representative of the Tuttle family, said. "There's been no accountability of the City of Houston or the officers to explain and take ownership of this murder."

Just last week, the City of Houston authorized an additional $1.7 million to defend the city in the civil lawsuits that the Tuttle and Nicholas families brought on.

READ MORE: City of Houston OKs $2.95M to defend HPD, former chief Art Acevedo in Harding Street civil lawsuit

The Harris County District Attorney's Office released a one-sentence statement stating:

"The Harris County District Attorney's Office is fully prepared and ready to try this case when scheduled by the court."

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas had a longer statement:

"Every case is unique, and we consider each one based on the evidence and what can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This case involved multiple defendants and has been certified as complex. Further, there are similar court actions in civil and state court that are also pending that have some additional bearing on our prosecution. All of these can be a factor in the overall resolution of the matter.

Nonetheless, while there have not been many formal announcements from our office, the case has been proceeding and prosecutors are still hard at work. There were three charged and to date, two have already been convicted. One has already been sentenced. The other sentencing is pending, but is currently scheduled for August.

The case against the main defendant Goines is still in process and a status conference is set for March 25."

As the families wait, the passage of time has not been kind. Rhogena Nicholas' brother, John, who led the family's efforts to clear his sister's name, died two years ago. Dennis Tuttle's father, Robert, who family members say never recovered from the shock of his son's death, also died last year. Neither saw their loved ones' names cleared.

So Cliff and Ryan Tuttle carry on the family's mission: to clear Dennis' name.

"I would say probably the most frustrating part of this is just knowing that there hasn't been any accountability," Ryan Tuttle said. "My father's name and my stepmom's name have been tarnished. And, I certainly think that that needs to be cleared up."

Jo Ann Nicholas, meanwhile, still wakes up once a month, thinking she heard a knock at the door. Five years ago, local Louisiana police knocked on her door to tell her she needed to call Houston police. She vows to keep fighting for as long as she can.

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