Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, a married couple, were named as the two suspects who police say opened fire on multiple Houston, Texas police officers in a suspected drug house, shooting four of them and wounding a fifth.
However, ABC 13 is now reporting: “A confidential informant didn’t buy drugs at the southeast Houston home where an investigation turned into a deadly shootout with police last month, according to a new search warrant.” That contradicts the initial police account that allowed them to obtain a no-knock search warrant that led to the deaths of Tuttle and Nicholas.
The mass shooting left Tuttle, 59, and Nicholas, 58, dead and the five officers wounded in the hospital. All of the officers have survived, however. One officer, though, is fighting to recover, the chief said. The January 28, 2019 gun battle erupted during a dangerous search warrant execution at a home suspected of being tied to the dealing of black tar heroin, police say. Tuttle filled his Facebook page with pictures showing him with Nicholas, who was known as “Regi.” Nicholas had a Twitter page where she had liked various posts by President Trump.
Some people who knew the pair expressed shock that police say they were dealing heroin. “I still can’t stop crying!!! And yes they where (sic) GOOD PEOPLE!!!” wrote one woman who knew them on Facebook.
And questions are mounting about the deaths after police relieved an officer of duty, according to the Houston Chronicle, after questions arose about the no-knock warrant.
Police Chief Art Acevedo made a plea for lawmakers to do something about the prevalence of guns in the country. “Crooks are going to be crooks. The question is, what are we in society and what are elected officials, going to do,” he said in a January 29 press conference.
However, by early February, was saying, according to The Chronicle: “I know that in addition to the officer-involved shooting itself, many have questions regarding the circumstances surrounding the search warrant. All of these questions are part of our ongoing criminal and administrative investigations.” Police have not released additional details of that, including the officer’s name.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Authorities Say Rhogena Nicholas Tried to Grab an Officer’s Shotgun & Tuttle Opened Fire
The police chief described a frenetic and dangerous scene in which Tuttle opened fire on narcotics officers, and Nicholas tried to grab an officer’s shotgun, a split-second choice that cost her her life.
About 4:15 p.m. on January 28, Acevedo said, a narcotics group was working an investigation into sales of narcotics near the residence. A large team of officers went to the scene. Patrol officers were there to provide support for the operation. Shortly before 5 p.m, the narcotics officers attempted to serve a search warrant. They announced themselves as Houston police officers while simultaneously breaching the front door, according to the chief.
“Immediately upon reaching the door, the officers came under fire,” Acevedo said. Gunfire was exchanged.
On January 29, Acevedo provided additional details. He said the first officer who entered the house was charged by a pitbull. A male suspect – Tuttle – then came from around the back and opened fire with a revolver. That officer was struck in the shoulder. He went down and fell on the sofa.
At that time, the female suspect, Rhogena Nicholas, reached over the officer and started making a move for his shotgun, the chief said. Other officers made entry and discharged their firearms, striking that female suspect, according to Acevedo.
2. Tuttle, a Navy Veteran, Was Married to Nicholas for Years & Neither Had a Criminal Conviction History in Texas
According to reporter Jeremy Rogalski, of KHOU-TV, Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas “were husband and wife. Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas were married in 1998 in Harris County. Initial records search shows no criminal convictions for either.” A search by Heavy of Texas Department of Public Safety records does not show any convictions.
Nicholas did have an arrest for writing a bad check but the case was dismissed, Harris County court records show:
Tuttle was a Navy veteran.
On Facebook, Tuttle wrote that he was married to Nicholas, known as Regi Rhogena Nicholas-Tuttle, and went to Friendswood High School. His only visible posts were a couple of photos.
The two suspects were shot and pronounced dead at the scene, said Acevedo.
Acevedo focused a lot of his rhetoric on praising an officer who was shot at the suspected drug house. This officer, said the chief, has been shot several times before. He could have chosen to retire. Instead, he returned to the frontlines.
That officer is age 54. That officer was “shot several times in the line of duty” before, stated Acevedo, adding that the man was the “case agent” for the operation.
On January 29, the chief provided additional details about this officer’s role. An exchange of gunfire occurred. The 54-year-old officer breached the door. When he made entry, he also got shot. The remaining officers started laying down cover fire. They heroically pulled their fellow officers out of harm’s way, according to the chief. Acevedo said that the 54-year-old officer has been shot three times in his career, characterizing him as a hero.
3. Police Bought Black Tar Heroin at the House Before & Nicholas Used the #HoustonStrong Hashtag on Facebook & Liked Posts By Trump on Twitter
Rhogena’s Facebook page was filled with photos of herself and family members. “Hope 2019 is a good one,” she wrote to one friend. “I stand for the flag. I kneel at the cross,” read a graphic she shared. Another commemorated the September 11, 2001 tragedy. She also shared the hashtag #HoustonStrong. “We love you Texas,” read a filter that she placed on one of her profile pictures. On photos she shared of her elderly father, people indicated he was a dentist.
Nicholas had a Twitter page. She only had 12 followers on Twitter despite having created the account in 2011. There are 36 likes listed on her page. She liked several posts by President Donald Trump, including about sanctuary cities, and she also liked posts by Joel Osteen and Ivanka Trump. Here are some of those:
She also liked a post in which Trump wrote, “Mexico has taken advantage of the U.S. for long enough. Massive trade deficits & little help on the very weak border must change, NOW!”
Here’s another Trump post Nicholas’s Twitter page:
Most of her tweets say things about entering giveways and liking products. She also appeared to be a Bon Jovi fan. She hadn’t tweeted since September 2018. Nicholas also followed Donald and Melania Trump on Twitter.
With an old photo on Facebook that showed her fishing, Nicholas wrote, “Let’s go fishing. Flounder likes the cooler water, but sit on bottom. There is always alligator gar a.d red’s (sic).. any takerd?”
With a photo of her parents, she wrote, “I am missing my Mississippi roots.” Her likes on Facebook included Mitt Romney, Support our Firefighters PAC, Donald Trump, Houston Animal Rescue Team, the Louisiana Cajun Navy, Houston Texas S.W.A.T.T. Team, Praying Out Loud, Starkville Police Department, and many, many more.
When the officers breached the front door of the home, they were entering a very dangerous situation because they’d purchased heroin there before, according to Acevedo. “Narcotics activity was going on in that residence. Specifically the sale of black tar heroin,” he revealed.
According to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, “Black Tar Heroin is a variety of heroin produced primarily in Mexico, though South America (Colombia), Southeast Asia (principally Burma), and Southwest Asia (principally Afghanistan) can also be a source. It is one of the most prevalent forms of heroin in the western United States, while occasionally found in western Canada and Europe.”
The site continues: “The color and consistency of black tar heroin result from the crude processing methods used to illicitly manufacture heroin in Mexico. Black tar heroin may be sticky like roofing tar or hard like coal, and its color may vary from dark brown to black.”
“We actually bought black tar heroin at the location,” Acevedo said, but he said that authorities found other drugs inside the residence, including marijuana and a substance that is either cocaine or fentanyl.
The Houston Chronicle earlier reported that the shooting exploded at the door when Narcotics Division officers tried to serve a warrant at a house where they’d previously made undercover drug purchases. One officer was shot in the face, according to the newspaper. Police were using a robot to search the home. A witness described hearing at least 15 gunshots at the house, per KHOU.
It’s not yet clear how many officers returned fire, said the chief.
4. A Neighbor Said the Couple Had Few Visitors & Family Members Are Shocked by the Drug Dealing Accusations
Elizabeth Ferrari, the sister of Tuttle, told The Houston Chronicle: “We are so sorry that this situation happened. My prayer is for the officers and their families.”
However, she told the newspaper that she didn’t believe they were selling heroin. “I don’t buy it all,” Ferrari said to the newspaper. “Not one hot minute.”
Another woman who knew Tuttle and Nicholas told the newspaper they “were private people. They stayed at home. They loved their dogs; they loved their animals” and insisted Nicholas was not a drug addict or dealer.
The couple was somewhat reclusive, according to an account that a neighbor gave to the Houston Chronicle. The neighbor told the newspaper that he would see Tuttle walking his dog, didn’t see Nicholas much, and indicated the couple had few visitors.
The most seriously wounded officers were initially in critical but stable condition after being shot in the neck area in the immediate hours after the mass shooting, according to the chief. The day after the shooting, Acevedo said he’s “really worried about one” of the officers, describing him as being in a “really tough fight.”
However, the other three shot officers were in stable condition. One of the officers who was shot “is in a fight,” repeated Acevedo, a few minutes after he named the two deceased suspects as Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, holding their mugshots aloft.
Two officers ended up in surgery for gunfire, and “we’re hopeful with the prayers of this community that they will recover,” the chief said on the night of the shooting. “They were struck by gunfire, but they are ambulatory and expected to make a full recovery.” The fifth officer was also wounded in the gun battle, but not from a bullet, suffering a knee injury. Initially, police thought all five were shot.
“No officer has died,” Acevedo said, opening up an evening news conference the night the officers were shot. Mayor Sylvester Turner called it a tough day for Houston and asked for prayers for the injured officers. “Pray for all of our police officers,” Turner said, adding that one officer was about to be discharged. “Our job is to keep people safe in our city. We do not tolerate any sort of activity, whether it’s drug trafficking or any other activity.”
The next day, the police chief praised Houston police as “an outstanding Police Department.”
5. The Police Union President Labeled the Suspects ‘Dirtbags’
Union President Joe Gamaldi wrote on Twitter right after the shooting occurred: “3 of our officers are currently stable, 2 are still critical please keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.” At the first press conference, he used sharper rhetoric, calling the suspects “dirtbags,” and saying, “We’re sick and tired of having targets on our backs. Enough is enough.”
“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,” he said.
Asked about those comments, Acevedo chose to focus on gun control issues. He said there is a “public health epidemic in this country called gun violence…we didn’t elect people to pray for us. We elected people to lead us.”
Gamaldi had also tweeted about the multiple officers wounded.
“We currently have 5 officers shot, all on their way to the hospital,” Houston Police Officers’ Union President Gamaldi wrote on Twitter. “One is being life flighted. On the way to the hospital, will update when I can. Please keep all the officers in your prayers!”
KHOU-TV said reporters saw at least two life flight helicopters at the scene. A large section of the neighborhood was sealed off.
Houston police tweeted earlier that the officers were shot during an “encounter” with a suspect, who was not named. “HPD responding to a scene at 7800 Harding where officers have been struck with gunfire following an encounter with a suspect. Officers are en route to the hospital. Please avoid the area and yield for emergency vehicles. Further updates will be provided as available,” they wrote in first hours after the incident.