Ex-Houston officers face federal charges in deadly drug raid

HOUSTON (AP) — Two former Houston police officers are facing federal charges accusing them of providing false information in a January drug raid that left two people dead and several officers injured, authorities said Wednesday.

The federal counts follow state charges filed in the case in August, including two counts of felony murder against one of the officers. Rhogena Nicholas, 58, and Dennis Tuttle, 59, were killed in the raid.

Federal authorities said the charges against Gerald Goines, 55, and Steven Bryant, 45, are the result of a civil rights investigation begun by the FBI following the botched Jan. 28 raid. Police alleged Goines lied to obtain a search warrant.

Goines, who was shot in the botched drug raid, and Bryant face charges in a nine-count indictment. They made their initial federal court appearances Wednesday afternoon.

Prosecutors asked that Goines be held without bond. He will remain in custody until a detention hearing on Friday.

“We are looking forward to vigorously defending Mr. Goines both in state court and in federal court,” said Nicole DeBorde, Goines’ attorney. She said Goines was expected to plead not guilty.

Bryant, who was granted a $50,000 unsecured bond, pleaded not guilty.

Derek Hollingsworth, one of Bryant’s attorneys, said the ex-officer is “worried” and that the federal charges “were unexpected.”

Goines was charged with seven counts, including two charges in which he is accused of depriving the couple of their constitutional right to be secure against unreasonable searches. Prosecutors allege the search warrant Goines prepared contained false statements and led to the raid, which resulted in the couple’s deaths and injuries to officers.

Bryant faces one count related to obstructing justice by falsifying records. He’s accused of falsely claiming in a report after the raid that he had identified as heroin a substance that was bought at the home before the raid.

Authorities allege Goines lied in the search warrant about having a confidential informant buy heroin at the home. Goines later acknowledged there was no informant and that he bought the drugs himself, authorities said.

Patricia Garcia, a neighbor of the slain couple, is accused of making fake 911 calls that led police to the home. She is facing one count of providing false information.

Federal prosecutors allege Garcia made several calls claiming her daughter was inside the couple’s home, that the couple were drug addicts, drug dealers and had guns inside their house.

Family and friends of Tuttle and Nicholas have continuously dismissed allegations that the couple sold drugs. Police found small amounts of marijuana and cocaine in the house, but no heroin.

“We hope the Nicholas family's quest for justice in the death of Rhogena will be expedited by the FBI’s actions today,” said Michael Doyle, one of the Nicholas family attorneys who has been conducting an independent investigation of the raid. “The federal indictments confirm the breadth and depth of the lies told to justify the raid before and after the death of Rhogena Nicholas.”

Garcia, who also made her initial court appearance Wednesday, was expected to remain in custody until a detention hearing Friday. During Wednesday’s hearing, she asked for a court-appointed lawyer who was not immediately named.

Authorities have not revealed why Garcia made the 911 calls. Police said Garcia lived on the same street as Nicholas and Tuttle. DeBorde did not immediately know if Goines knew Garcia.

Despite the federal charges that allege the two ex-officers provided false information that was used to justify the raid, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on Wednesday maintained that officers had a reason to be in the house.

Acevedo said his agency has made changes to its procedures to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.

“We cannot change what happened. We can’t go back in time. But we have an absolute duty to pursue the truth, pursue the facts,” Acevedo said at a news conference.

Goines faces up to life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges related to depriving the couple of their constitutional right to be secure against unreasonable searches. Bryant faces up to 20 years in prison while Garcia faces up to five years if they’re convicted.

Following the shooting, prosecutors began reviewing more than 2,000 cases tied to Goines and Bryant. In June, prosecutors said their investigation had grown into a probe of 14,000 cases handled by the Houston Police Department's narcotics division.

Both Goines and Bryant were relieved of duty after the shooting and later retired.

In state court, Goines is facing two felony murder counts while Bryant is charged with tampering with a government record.


Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70