Criminal Justice

Houston Will Spend More Than $1 Million To Fight Harding Street Raid Lawsuit

The $1.25 million will go to Beck Redden LLP in the first phase of what the city described as a two-phase approach to defending itself against the civil rights suit filed on behalf of the victims’ families.

The Pecan Park house where four police officers were shot on January 28, 2019 while serving a search warrant.

City Council on Tuesday voted to spend $1.25 million on a powerful Houston law firm to fight a civil rights lawsuit stemming from the 2019 botched Harding Street drug raid, in which two people were shot and killed.

In a 14-3 vote, council approved the law firm of Beck Redden LLP to represent its interests in the suit brought by the families of Dennis Tuttle, 59, and wife Rhogena Nicholas, 58. Prosecutors say former Houston Police officer Gerald Goines shot and killed the couple during the raid.

Supporters of the measure did not speak at Tuesday’s council meeting. But last week, Mayor Sylvester Turner said legal counsel was necessary no matter the situation.

“I've been an attorney for 41 years, and if you are sued — if any one of you are sued — I would encourage you to get you a lawyer,” Turner said. “And in this case, the city is being sued.”

The city’s legal strategy is split into two phases. The first phase, which would be paid for with $1.25 million in fees to Beck Redden, would include filing a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the suit. Phase 2 would include “subsequent services leading up to and including trial preparation and trial.”

The city council agenda item noted that the City Attorney’s Office would return for additional funding should it be necessary to do so.

In the aftermath of the raid, police said they discoverd Goines concocted a story about an informant to illegally obtain a warrant. Eleven other current and former members of HPD’s embattled narcotics unit were also charged with various crimes.

Prosecutors have worked to dismiss more than 160 drug convictions tied to Goines, and earlier this week, a lawyer with the Harris County Public Defender’s Office submitted a request to have George Floyd pardoned for a Houston drug conviction based on Goines’ history. Floyd, who was murdered by a Minneapolis Police officer last year, is a former Houston resident who Goines arrested in 2004.

The only council members to vote against hiring Beck Redden were Tarsha Jackson, Letitia Plummer and Michael Kubosh.

In explaining her no vote, Jackson — a former criminal justice reform advocate who was elected last year in a long-delayed runoff — said she understood Turner’s argument, but that it was time to “start doing things differently.”

“We have to be able to hold people accountable,” Jackson said Tuesday. “And so if I vote yes, it's like I'm supporting a system that's OK with allowing people to act up and do wrong things and we have to pay out."

Plummer stressed that she supported HPD, and agreed that the city had an obligation to represent its employees.

But she said she was concerned about the financial — and emotional — costs of litigation.

“I still have some uncertainties in terms of what the total budget of these legal costs are going to be versus what a settlement would look like, in terms of the length of the lawsuit, and the stress on families, really on both sides,” Plummer said. “And I do wish that we had an opportunity to speak with Chief Acevedo during this whole situation. So I will be voting no on this item as well."

Kubosh said Houston should hire a law firm, but voted no because he thought Houston should look into other options.

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Paul DeBenedetto

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Jen Rice

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Jen Rice is the City Hall reporter at Houston Public Media, where she covers topics like Houston City Council and housing. Jen was born and raised in Houston's 100-year floodplain. She graduated from Barnard College at Columbia University and has a master's degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs...

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