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Search for friends to clear Houston couple killed in drug raid

This Mar. 20, 2019 photos shows a makeshift memorial with flowers and candles set up at the front door of a house in Houston, where a couple who lived there were killed during a Jan. 28 drug raid by Houston police. Friends of the Houston couple fatally shot by police during the drug raid of their house to push back against claims the two were criminals. The FBI is investigating, and the official in the application of the search warrant was suspended. (AP Photo/Juan Lozano)

HOUSTON – When police fatally shot a couple during a raid of their house in a working-class Houston neighborhood, friends and family members angrily rejected the accusations that the two were selling heroin, and had fired at officers, while defending an illegal business.

The authorities have not cleared their names, even after a claim that an officer lied about the crime to obtain the search warrant to justify the Jan. 28 raid. The officer, Gerald Goines, has been suspended and more than 1,400 of its former cases to be reviewed, in the midst of a civil rights investigation by the FBI.

The police Art Acevedo said that until the investigation is completed, Dennis Tuttle, a 59-year-old veteran of the Navy, and his wife, 58-year-old Rhogena Nicholas, known to good friends, “Regi”, remains the drug suspects.

“We shall release them too early, and the next thing you know, we find something,” said Acevedo, who has kept in close contact with the family Tuttle since the raid.

But the couple, the family and friends of the maintain of the two, married for 20 years, are not criminals. She brought the couple as animal lovers who lived quiet, simple lives and were dedicated to each other.

“They try to throw my friends under the bus and act as if they are these horrible people that they are not and they have … slandered my friends all based on lies,” Monique Caballero said.

The police said undercover narcotics officers were met by gunfire after being in the couple’s house. Four officers were shot and injured, and a fifth injured his knee.

The authorities began investigating the home after receiving a 911 call on Jan. 8 from a woman who said that her daughter was on drugs. In a search warrant affidavit that was used to authorize the raid, Goines said that a confidential informant had purchased heroin in the house. But the police now claim Goines lied in the affidavit that the informant told the investigators no drug to buy ever took place. The heroin allegedly purchased from the house had obtained from elsewhere, according to the researchers.

According to the police account, the couple was killed after Tuttle embroiled in a gunfight with the officers and Nicholas tried to grab the shotgun from one of the agents that the house. But their friends have suggested the couple would have thought that they were being attacked by intruders.

Acevedo said the researchers are still to determine whether the weapons seized at the couple’s home was purchased legally.

The police used a “no-knock” warrant that they had to announce themselves before entering. These warrants were criticized after the raid, and in response, Acevedo, said he, or someone he designates to the approval of such warrants.

Acevedo also announced that body cameras are now worn by SWAT team members and by officials in the execution of a search warrant. Officials involved in the drug raid wearing body cameras.

A review of court documents in Houston found that only Nicholas had any prior criminal history, a criminal offence in 2010 in connection with a bad check for $100. The charge was dismissed after restitution was paid.

Elizabeth Ferrari, Tuttle’s sister, told KPRC-TV, this didn’t sound like the brother she knew, and that a week before the recording, she had spoken with him and they had “a good conversation.”

Miguel Prats, who had known the couple for at least 20 years, said the two were “warm and fuzzy” kind of people.

“I couldn’t even tell you how many dozens of times I already had in the house, and I never, ever saw a dope deal go down,” Prats said.

Tuttle, who grew up in Houston, had worked as a machinist. Nicholas was originally from Mississippi. Both had dealt with various health problems in recent years and were on disability. Tuttle had suffered a number of work-related injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder from his military service, according to friends. Nicholas had health problems related to hepatitis and was diagnosed with cancer, Caballero said.

“They kept to themselves. But they were the most caring, loving people,” she said.

Caballero said that on the day of the drug raid, had sent Nicholas a funny animal video. Nicholas texted her about 20 minutes before the raid happened, says of the video, “LOL. That is funny.” It was the last exchange, the two friends would ever have.

The police said the officials immediately faced with gunfire after they forced open the front door. The first officer through the door was charged by a large pit bull, which he shot and killed.

The few friends say that they believe Tuttle and Nicholas probably thought someone was breaking into their house.

“You crash someone’s door down and shoot their dog in Texas, you damn well better be prepared to be shot back at,” Prats said.

The police said, while there is no heroin was found in the home, officers recovered 18 grams of marijuana, 1.5 grams of a white powder, presumably cocaine, two shotguns and two rifles.

Prats said the weapons probably belonged to Tuttle as he used to go hunting. He said that the drugs found were very small amounts, which were probably used for medicinal purposes to treat pain.

But Caballero said because of the problems that have arisen over the raid, they don’t trust anything the police say about what they found in the house.

She said that the officers involved in the raid should be held responsible for what happened to her friends.

“They gave everyone else other than themselves. They are not drug dealers. They are not drug addicts and they did not deserve to die that way,” Caballero said.

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

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