On Friday, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt slapped down the latest delay tactic from the City of Houston’s legal team in a case trying to uncover hidden evidence from 2019’s fatal Harding Street raid.
Last month, lawyers for the family of Rhogena Nicholas — one of the Houstonians shot and killed by Houston Police Officers in the botched no-knock raid — were set to argue in Harris County Probate Court that the city and HPD should share additional evidence related to the deadly incident. But on the day of the hearing, city attorneys requested that the case be bumped up to federal court, causing a last minute delay.
In his ruling on whether or not the case would be elevated to the federal level, Hoyt sided in favor of the Nicholas family and said it should be held in county probate court as planned. The rescheduled hearing is now set for 9 a.m. on January 12 and will be livestreamed on the Harris County Probate Court No. 1 YouTube page.
The Nicholas family’s legal team, led by Houston attorney Mike Doyle, is seeking testimony from the HPD managers who oversaw the local narcotics unit that carried out the raid that killed Nicholas and her husband Dennis Tuttle, in addition to other crime scene evidence HPD has so far refused to make available.
Based on that evidence and the findings of an independent forensic analysis of the crime scene, the Nicholas family’s legal team may later sue the City of Houston if it finds that Nicholas’s constitutional civil rights were violated.
The family is particularly skeptical of HPD Chief Art Acevedo's claims that HPD officers only opened fire after Tuttle allegedly shot an officer and once Nicholas reportedly tried to take another officer's shotgun.
The raid was carried out based on allegedly falsified evidence that Nicholas and Tuttle were heroin dealers, although HPD only found small amounts of cocaine and marijuana in the married couple’s Harding Street home.
Doyle said he believes that city attorneys’ request to have the hearing moved up to federal court was done to delay the proceedings, and because federal courts have usually ruled in favor of letting police departments keep evidence from controversial incidents under wraps.
Hoyt wrote in his ruling that the city’s request to bump up the hearing to the federal level wasn’t just “untimely,” having come over a year and a half into the litigation process, but also relied on “a significant element of proof that it cannot establish.”
“One of the reasons we know it wasn’t legitimate is they waited almost 19 months to do it,” Doyle said.
Previous attempts from the city to delay the Nicholas family’s investigation from going forward were knocked down by the Texas Supreme Court last year. City attorneys have already appealed Hoyt’s ruling, Doyle said, which he believes is just another stalling maneuver.
“They can run, but they can’t hide,” Doyle said. “That’s the way I look at it.”
The full text of Hoyt's ruling is embedded below.
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