One day after Houston police officer Felipe Gallegos was charged with committing murder in 2019’s botched Harding Street drug raid, his defense attorney Rusty Hardin accused Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg of pursuing the case for political purposes.
“No question about it: They indicted a hero,” Hardin said of Gallegos, who spoke briefly during a Tuesday press conference to declare his innocence.
“It’s been challenging just because I haven’t been awarded the opportunity to tell my side of the story, to be able to explain that I’m not the bad person that I’m being painted to be,” Gallegos said.
“Ms. Ogg has embarked upon an approach to criminal justice that is based on pleasing the latest social issue that is hot, and not on what is the right thing to do in terms of guilt or innocence or protecting the public. Felipe is just the latest, most outrageous example of this,” Hardin said. Hardin later accused Ogg of unfairly targeting police officers, a supposed bias he equated to the unjust, racist treatment that minorities face from the criminal justice system.
“What is happening here is the district attorney has replaced the bias against minorities with the bias against cops… and to charge a man for murder because she was deciding to pick a new flavor of things to be against, namely the police, is factually, morally and legally wrong,” he said.
On Monday, Ogg announced that Gallegos had been indicted for murder by a county grand jury for shooting and killing Dennis Tuttle, one of the two Houstonians slain in the Harding Street raid. Ogg also announced new charges against several other HPD narcotics officers Monday for allegedly defrauding the city by falsifying timesheets claiming overtime pay, evidence for which her office claims was uncovered during its investigation of the Harding Street incident.
Tuttle, his wife Rhogena Nicholas and their dog were all shot and killed by HPD narcotics officers during a chaotic raid on the couple’s home. The raid was carried out after former HPD officer Gerald Goines and his partner Steven Bryant allegedly falsified evidence to secure a no-knock warrant to enter Nicholas and Tuttle’s home. That evidence painted Tuttle and Nicholas as heroin dealers, but only small amounts of marijuana and cocaine were found in the couple’s home.
Gallegos is the second officer to be charged with murder for his role in the 2019 raid, and the first to be indicted for shooting one of the raid’s victims; Goines has also been charged with murder due to his involvement in setting up the allegedly false evidence that led to the raid.
Hardin claimed that Gallegos shot Tuttle in self-defense only after Tuttle supposedly shot four other HPD officers involved in the raid, and that Gallegos wasn’t given an opportunity to testify before the grand jury before it indicted him Monday.
Hardin also claimed that Ogg pushed for Gallegos to be charged this week due to the fast-approaching two-year anniversary of the January 28 raid in order to bolster an anticipated civil lawsuit from Nicholas family attorney Mike Doyle.
Doyle has been trying for over a year to compel the City of Houston and HPD to share additional evidence from the raid due to questions the family has about HPD’s story of how the incident played out. For months, the city has successfully delayed a county probate court hearing that would determine whether or not HPD would have to reveal that evidence to the Nicholas family's legal team.
While HPD maintains that Nicholas was only shot and killed after she attempted to take a shotgun away from one of the officers present, an independent forensic analysis commissioned by the Nicholas family alleges that the shot that killed Nicholas came from outside the house, and was likely the result of an officer firing blindly.
Hardin also mentioned that Doyle represented Harris County pro bono in a recent environmental case against Arkema, the company whose local chemical plant exploded and damaged the environment in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
“The civil statute of limitations expires Thursday,” Hardin said. “That means that Mr. Doyle will file his lawsuit… You gotta ask, what is this timing? We wait two years, one to two to three days before there’s a civil lawsuit filed to indict a police officer and others for things that would be tremendously, potentially helpful to the civil lawsuit brought by the attorney that has just represented her in another matter?
“These are political prosecutions,” he continued. “These are political decisions, and they are incredibly unhealthy and unsafe for our community.”
In a separate press conference Tuesday, Houston Police Officers’ Union President Joe Griffith echoed Hardin’s claims that Ogg’s decision to pursue murder charges against Gallegos were politically motivated and were likely timed to help Doyle make his civil case against the City of Houston.
“This is just another one of those political processes that she likes to go through,” Griffith said, who then called Ogg’s recent moves “nothing more than TV justice at its best.”
“I find it a little suspicious that they hurry these up and pass them out right before the deadline so that a certain attorney can get over there and file his wrongful death suit. I’m pretty sure that’ll happen today or tomorrow,” Griffith said.
Doyle told the Houston Press that he had no advance knowledge that Ogg’s office would make any charges tied to the Harding Street raid ahead of Thursday’s statute of limitations deadline.
He said he was shocked to hear Hardin on Tuesday reference the existence of an audio recording of the botched drug bust (“There are microphones of all of this,” Hardin said, “and everything I just described to you lasted one minute and 25 seconds.”) given that Houston police chief Art Acevedo has publicly maintained that there isn’t any footage of the raid available because the officers involved weren’t wearing body cameras.
“After promising transparency, after promising to get to the bottom of it, it’s just the same pattern and practice of concealment,” Doyle said, “all the way through.”
“Based on the successful cover-up of the facts to date,” Doyle said that HPD and the City of Houston “basically have left the family with no choice” but to move forward with a civil lawsuit against the city for violating their daughter’s constitutional civil rights.
“There will have to be a civil rights suit,” he said. “That’s the only way the family is going to get any answers at this point.”
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