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Houston Police DepartmentLast Friday the Houston Police Department released the inventory of items seized during the January 28 drug raid that killed a middle-aged couple and injured five narcotics officers. Strikingly absent is any evidence that Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas were selling drugs from their house at 7815 Harding Street, notwithstanding Police Chief Art Acevedo's portrayal of them as scary, heavily armed, locally notorious heroin dealers.
According to the warrant affidavit, a confidential informant bought heroin from a man matching Tuttle's description at the house the day before the raid, when he reported seeing a "large quantity of plastic baggies" containing heroin. Instead police found "approximately 18 grams of marijuana" and "approximately 1.5 grams of an unknown white powder" that Acevedo later identified as cocaine. These are personal use quantities that are not consistent with drug dealing. Nor did police find any equipment, supplies, or cash indicative of drug sales. The inventory does not mention scales, bags, or heroin paraphernalia. It does not even mention the police-supplied money that the C.I. supposedly used to buy heroin from Tuttle, which should have been identifiable by serial numbers recorded before the purchase.
The other four items in the inventory are guns: a 20-gauge Beretta ALS shotgun, a 12-gauge Remington 1100 shotgun, a Remington 700 bolt-action rifle, and a .22-caliber Winchester 190 semi-automatic rifle. The list does not include the .357 Magnum revolver that police say Tuttle fired at the officers who broke into his home, shot his dog, and killed his wife. Nor does it mention the 9mm semi-automatic handgun that the C.I. supposedly saw in the house the day before, which apparently disappeared along with the heroin and the money.
"There's nothing identified in [the] search warrant return as scales or baggies, or anything that would be used to distribute heroin—or any other drugs, for that matter," Val Zuniga, a local defense attorney who specializes in drug cases, noted in an interview with KTRK, the ABC station in Houston. "It's not the amount of drugs that would be associated with distribution. I think in this case the officer probably relied on an unreliable informant."
That much seems pretty clear, but it does not get the narcotics officer who applied for the warrant off the hook. "The confidential informant has provided informant [sic] and assistance to officers in the past on at least ten (10) prior occasions which has lead [sic] to narcotic arrests and seizures," wrote the officer, whose name is blacked out in the publicly released copy of the affidavit. "The confidential informant has proven to be credible and reliable on many prior occasions." Before sending the C.I. into the house, the officer told him that "narcotics were being sold and stored" there, so it was clear what he wanted to prove and what kind of "assistance" was required.
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