After months of courtroom wrangling, the legal team representing Rhogena Nicholas’s family will head to a courtroom this Friday as it continues its quest for more details surrounding 2019’s fatal Harding Street raid, during which Houston Police officers shot and killed Nicholas and her husband Dennis Tuttle.
On Monday, Harris County Probate Court Judge Jerry Simoneaux ruled that he would hear the Nicholas family’s case at 1:30 p.m. Friday. The case is being heard in probate court due to that court's jurisdiction over wrongful death cases, and the hearing comes after months of delay tactics from the city’s lawyers who have tried to prevent releasing evidence to the Nicholas family’s lawyers, which they’ve been seeking since last summer.
The Harding Street raid took place after former HPD officers Gerald Goines and Steven Bryant allegedly faked evidence that made it look like Tuttle and Nicholas were heroin dealers, even though cops only found small amounts of marijuana and cocaine in the married couple’s home. Both Goines and Bryant are awaiting trial in federal court for their roles in the raid.
Suspicious of HPD’s story about how the raid went down, the family may sue the City of Houston if their investigation turns up evidence that HPD violated Nicholas’s civil rights. A previous forensic analysis carried out on the family’s behalf found that the bullet which killed Nicholas was fired from outside the house, which contradicts HPD Chief Art Acevedo’s claims that HPD officers opened fire inside the home after Tuttle shot one officer and after Nicholas attempted to grab another officer’s shotgun.
The Nicholas family is seeking a court order for sworn depositions from HPD’s Capt. Paul Follis and Lt. Marsha Todd, two department managers who oversaw the narcotics unit that carried out the raid, in addition to 911 call recordings and other evidence from the crime scene that HPD so far hasn’t made public.
“Every bit of that — which is kind of amazing — they have kept completely concealed and hidden now for almost two years,” said Mike Doyle, one of the lawyers representing the Nicholas family. “We’ve only had the chief’s public statements. That’s it. Every bit of objective stuff they’ve kept hidden now for almost two years.”
While he didn’t want to give too much away ahead of Friday’s hearing, Doyle did offer that “it’d be safe to say that there should be evidence expected about the forensics findings that’s never been revealed before, as well as city witnesses about the collection and safeguarding of the evidence at the scene.”
Nicholas’s brother John is glad to see the case moving forward, which he hopes will finally uncover the full story of what happened that night in January 2019.
“Our family’s search for the truth of what happened to Rhogena is finally moving forward,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “Rhogena did not deserve to be executed in her own home by the Houston Police Department — and it’s time the mayor and chief of police provide our family with an explanation.”
“We’ve got a quarter of the puzzle pieces,” Doyle said, “but they’ve got three-quarters that they’re hiding, and it’s time and necessary for the family to see it.”
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