A Harris County Probate Court hearing on 2019’s fatal Harding Street raid scheduled for Friday was delayed by the City of Houston’s last-minute request that the case be bumped up to the federal level and heard by the U.S. Southern District of Texas.
Friday’s hearing was set to be held in county probate court because that court has jurisdiction over wrongful death cases. The family of Rhogena Nicholas, one of the two Houstonians killed by Houston Police Department officers in last year’s botched raid, is seeking depositions from HPD managers who oversaw the narcotics unit responsible for Nicholas’s killing, as well as other evidence from the crime scene which HPD has so far refused to make available.
Depending on the findings of the investigation into the raid, the Nicholas family’s legal team said it may sue the City of Houston for violating Nicholas’s constitutional civil rights, said Mike Doyle, one of the family’s attorneys.
The city is justifying its request that this case be delayed and heard in federal court due in part to sealed evidence the Nicholas family’s legal team is seeking from a separate case where the city paid a $1.2 million settlement to the family of Jordan Baker, who was killed by an HPD officer back in 2014.
The Nicholas family’s lawyers believe this evidence could help illustrate HPD practices that they believe unjustly protect HPD officers who use excessive force, so it’s not surprising that the city would want to prevent it from becoming public through delays and jurisdictional challenges like what caused Friday’s hearing to be called off.
“These cases always end up in federal court, and they’ve been successful in convincing the federal judges to sign sealing orders so that none of the bad stuff ever sees the light of day,” Doyle said.
It’s unclear when the federal court will rule on the city’s request to throw this case up out of county probate court. For now, chalk it up to one more victory for city officials who clearly would like nothing more than for people to stop talking about Nicholas and her husband Dennis Tuttle’s deaths at the hand of HPD.
“They’re just hoping they can keep pushing, pushing, pushing, [but] they’ll never get the family to give up,” Doyle said.
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