By Jennifer Kelly
On January 28, the Houston Police Department broke into the residence of Dennis Tuttle (59) and Rhogena Nicholas (58) in plain clothes to serve a “no-knock” warrant for suspected dealing of heroin, shooting their dog immediately upon entry. Tuttle responded to this home invasion by drawing a .357 magnum revolver and returning fire.
By the end of the brief fire fight, four officers had been shot, another was injured, and Tuttle and his wife were dead.
Following the incident, Houston Police Union President Joseph Gamaldi went on several rants against activists and the people, first at a press conference that same night and then a few days later when he appeared on Fox and Friends.
“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 on all of y’all, and we’re going to sure to hold you accountable every time you stir the pot on our police officers, ” Gamaldi said at the press conference. “What was that seminal moment that changed it all? Well 2014 when we had hands up don’t shoot in Ferguson which by the way was a completely false narrative.”
Gamaldi also denied any bias by the police against Black people, Chicanos, and immigrants from oppressed nations, but his own track record contradicts that claim. In 2010 Gamaldi was sued for police brutality during his time in NYPD.
On September 2, 2007, he and another officer jumped an innocent black man, threw him to the ground and beat him, calling him “a fucking nigger.” Gamaldi and the other officer then filed false charges against the victim, claiming he had fired shots.
The blundering of the Houston Police Department (HPD) in this case goes beyond the comments of one police union president. Many among the masses and even bourgeois news outlets doubt that HPD did anything other than murder two innocent people.
Many simply do not believe that Tuttle and Nicholas were heroin dealers. Neither of them had a criminal record, beyond Nicholas having a misdemeanor for theft by check, which was dismissed after she payed $145.
One neighbor of 30 years told reporters, “as far as I’m concerned, that man is a good man. I can’t believe what went down.”
“I don’t buy it at all, not one hot minute…My brother was a fine human being,” Tuttle’s sister told reporters.
Another friend said of Nicholas, “I cannot believe this; she’s not like that. She’s not a drug addict or a dealer.” Another neighbor who grew up with the couple said, “They didn’t deal drugs from out of that house. They’re not those type of people.”
Their neighbors felt so strongly in fact that they set up a small memorial for the couple. One neighbor said, “There’s no more tears in me. I went over there to go leave flowers. I almost fainted.”
“The police SHOT FIRST,” said a cousin of Dennis Tuttle in a post on Facebook. “Now they defame my family. I can only imagine the fear and rage in their last moments. If you are here on my page and support ‘Blue lives matter’ or ‘thin blue line’ anything unfriend me now and don’t expect to do business with me ever again. RIP Dennis Tuttle, you deserved better and died fighting.”
HPD claims that they originally got the tip that led to the raid from a neighbor. That tip claimed that Tuttle and Nicholas were selling black tar heroin out of their home.
The entire justification for the issuance of a no knock warrant was that a paid informant had supposedly managed to buy heroin from them and had seen a semi-automatic 9mm handgun as well numerous bags of heroin. Neither the semi-automatic nor the bags of heroin were found after the murders.
As of Feburary 7, 2019, one officer who was listed on the warrant has been relieved of duty “while a thorough investigation continues,” reports KHOU 11 news. According to three sources within law enforcement, the investigation is in part about the alleged purchase of heroin carried out by the paid informant.
There are other inconsistencies in HPD’s narrative. Originally, HPD claimed that they were fired upon immediately after entering the residence. Now it is known that they broke down the door in plain clothes and shot the couple’s dog before Tuttle fired a single shot.
Police Chief Acevedo, formerly the head of the Austin Police Department (APD) claimed three times during a press conference that the raid took place at 7815 Hardy rather than 7815 Harding where the raid actually took place.
It would not be the first time police got the wrong address and murdered innocent people. On July 23, 2017, for example, Police of the Southaven police department in Mississippi murdered Ismael Lopez after approaching his door to serve a warrant for assault that occurred at a different address.
The role of police in the protection of capital and in the enforcement of bourgeois interests makes acts of brutality inevitable in their work and the surveillance of activists, as threatened by Gamaldi, par for the course.
In 2017, John Hernandez was murdered by Harris County deputy and her husband, strangled to death outside a Denny’s parking lot. In 2018 another Harris County Sheriff’s deputy killed Danny Ray Thomas, an unarmed black man, for walking down the street with his pants down, clearly having a mental break down.
In 1977, José Campos Torres was murdered by the Houston police officers who beat him severely before throwing him into Buffalo Bayou. Torres’ murder led to the Moody Park Riots which shook Houston’s Northside, in which more than 40 people were arrested.
During his time as APD police chief, Acevedo oversaw the murders of Byron Carter Jr., who the APD shot when he was unarmed in the back of the head in 2011, Larry Jackson Jr., who happened to be visiting a bank that had been robbed earlier in the day when police shot him in 2013, and David Joseph, a 17-year-old who was naked and unarmed when police shot him in the street in 2016.
The surveillance, harassment and murder of activists by the police has a long history as well, from the political assassinations of Fred Hampton, Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcom X, to the bombing of the MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia, PA.
More recently, the co-founder of Huey P Newton Gun Club Rakem Balogun was arrested by the FBI in their crack down on so-called “black identity extremists” in 2017. His arrest came after years of surveillance by the FBI, an investigation which started after they learned of his involvement in a 2015 protest in Austin against police brutality from an Infowars video.
In November of 2016, the Austin Police Department attempted to murder Comrade Dallas, a beloved and dedicated activist, breaking his neck. In March 2018, this same police department arrested him and left a “MAGA” hat in his apartment as a threat.
Acevedo and the HPD’s chain of command try to keep a clean image for the police department, working hard to avoid the reputations that other large police departments, like the NYPD, have for police brutality. This is just a thin veneer disguising their role as enforcers of bourgeois rule. As they demonstrated in their response to the Moody Park riots, they will use force whenever they deem it necessary.
The police are enemies of the people, and the actions of HPD and the remarks of the racist cop Joseph Gamaldi only reiterate this fact.
Incendiary would like to extend its condolences to the family of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas, and to the families of anyone terrorized and killed by the police. It is only a matter of time before the masses rise to use force against the police who have committed such crimes against the people.