TX DA: 69 possibly innocent people got prison due to crooked cop

It was 13 months ago when Houston police stormed into the home of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas. A no-knock search warrant claimed the husband and wife sold heroin to a confidential informant.

The raid went horribly wrong. Tuttle and Nicholas died and four police officers were shot. A fifth suffered an injured ankle in all the chaos.

“We are sick and tired of having targets on our back,” Houston Police Officers’ Union President Joe Gamaldi raged after the failed raid. “We are sick and tired of having dirtbags trying to take our lives when all we’re trying to do is protect this community and protect our families. Enough is enough. And if you’re the ones out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy, well just know: we’ve all got your number now. We’re going to be keeping track of all of y’all and we’re going to make sure that we hold you accountable every time you stir the pot on our police officers. We’ve had enough, folks. We’re out there doing our jobs every day putting our lives on the line for our families.”

Gamaldi refused to back down on the strong statement later claiming to KHOU activists were stirring up use of force incidents, “even though it is overwhelming justified in every single case.”

The facts appear otherwise.

No heroin was ever found inside the home. May brought about questions whether Tuttle and Nicholas ever fired weapons as police claimed. By August, felony murder charges were filed against Gerald Goines, the officer who secured the warrant. Federal murder charges were filed against Goines in November. A Harris County grand jury indicted Goines for murder last month. Another now-former officer was indicted on tampering with evidence accusations. A civilian was accused of making fake 911 calls.

The botched raid caused a review of hundreds of cases Goines secured arrests and convictions. Two brothers were eventually declared innocent in connection with a 2008 drug conviction.

But now 69 convictions are under review because Goines may have lied to secure warrants. From the Harris County DA’s Office with emphasis mine:

[Harris County DA Kim] Ogg has concluded that defendants in cases during the period from 2008 to 2019 in which Goines played a substantial role are entitled to a presumption that he provided false evidence to secure their convictions.

“We need to clear people convicted solely on the word of a police officer whom we can no longer trust,” Ogg said.

Most of the cases involve delivery of a controlled substance and nearly all resulted in the loss of liberty, ranging from a few months in the Harris County Jail to four years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. In all cases, Goines was the sole witness to the offense.

Lawyers for each defendant would review whether the evidence presented by Goines was material in convicting their client – and if so, decide whether to request a new trial.

Problematic to say the least. Goines’ false angelic facade as a Houston cop possibly led to dozens of innocents spending time behind bars. The false arrests and convictions cost Harris County and Houston taxpayers in prosecutorial expenses and likely public defender expenses. More is probably on the way once all the lawsuits are figured out.

How did this happen? What is the solution? The short-term solution will be a hefty prison sentence for Goines and his accomplices for the deaths of Nicholas and Tuttle. Records will be expunged for those convicted by Goines’ false testimony.

The longer-term solution, however, is nuanced.

Goines was able to target his victims by claiming they sold drugs. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider drug possession laws. Preferably full legalization although raising the threshold for criminal convictions may be a stopgap. Fine people for possession of less than x amount of grams for all drugs similar to what states and cities currently do for marijuana. End mandatory minimums for certain drug crimes and give prosecutors and judges more leeway to consider certain situations like when a weapon happens to be on someone possessing narcotics.

These solutions could prevent another Goines from locking up innocents to advance his or her career. Along with preventing unnecessary deaths and injuries and ridiculous statements from hotheaded police union officials (who still have yet to apologize) like what happened in Houston last year.