Federal court rules against Houston police claims in Harding Street raid hearing

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Saturday, January 9, 2021
Judge rules against city in case of Harding St. raid victim's family
Judge Kenneth Hoyt tossed the case back to the state level, saying the city can't appoint itself a "federal actor."

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A federal judge has remanded a case back to state probate court between the family of a woman killed in a botched raid nearly two years ago and the city of Houston.

Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled against the city, after attorneys claimed a lawsuit by Rhogena Nicholas' family belonged in federal court.

The family took the city to court asking for access to evidence related to the January 28, 2019, shooting deaths of Nicholas and her husband, Dennis Tuttle, in their home during the HPD raid.

During the probate hearing in December, the city asked the case be heard at the federal level.

Family attorney Michael Patrick Doyle called the city's efforts a cover-up.

"The Nicholas family again is grateful to be moving forward with our investigation," Doyle said. "It's time for the cover-up to end. The city's continuing efforts to conceal the truth about the Harding Street raid have now been rejected by five separate county, state and federal courts."

In his ruling, Hoyt wrote the city of Houston's attempt was "untimely," lacked jurisdiction, and relied on "a significant element of proof that it cannot establish."

During the incident, officers were serving a drug warrant that was later determined to be based on the word of an informant who never actually went to the house.

Since the raid, six former Houston police officers have been charged.

PREVIOUS STORY: Family of woman killed in HPD raid says city owes them full explanation of what happened

WATCH: Texas House of Representatives member Gene Wu calls for change after Wednesday's sudden release of the Harding Street audit.

Before the city's request to move the case to federal court, Nicholas' family and their attorney had planned to introduce findings and present witness testimony from a family member, from expert witnesses and from a representative of the Houston Police Department. The family said they are fighting to get the 911 records related to the raid. They're also trying to find out what physical materials were removed from the scene.

Nicholas' brother, John, said a few months ago, "Our family's search for the truth of what happened to Rhogena will continue - no matter what. Once again, she did not deserve to be executed in her own home by the Houston Police Department. The mayor and chief of police owe our family an explanation of what happened in the raid and with Narcotics Squad 15. Fighting us is not the answer. We are not going away."

Family of botched Harding Raid victim claims HPD is 'uncooperative'

In July, HPD released its report of the investigation behind the botched raid. State lawmakers blasted the Houston Police Department for investigating its own, claiming that audit was only a small part of a bigger problem.

READ: Full detailed narcotics division report

While the investigation is still ongoing, representatives believe this was an entire rogue division's wrongdoing.

Criminal felony charges have been filed against former Houston narcotics officers by the Harris County District Attorney's Office in the ongoing investigation. Allegations include using false information to get judges to sign search warrants, falsifying time sheets, putting false information in offense reports, and falsifying government documents to steal, prosecutors have determined.

The probate case heads back to Harris County Probate Court No. 1 on Jan. 12.

ABC13 has reached out to Houston police for response to the judge's ruling. We'll update this story when we hear back.

The video above is from a previous report.


State lawmakers call HPD botched Harding Street raid audit a 'scam'

Grand jury indicts ex-HPD officers involved in botched raid

6 former HPD officers charged with 15 felonies linked to deadly botched raid

Family of woman killed in botched raid says HPD is 'uncooperative'