One morning in late January 2019, Rhogena Nicholas texted a prayer to her mother, Jo Ann Nicholas, just as she did every day. A widow in her eighties, Jo Ann could no longer make the four-hour drive from Natchitoches, Louisiana, to visit her daughter and her son-in-law, Dennis Tuttle, at their bungalow in the Pecan Park neighborhood of southeast Houston, but the family remained close, texting and speaking on the phone regularly. Rhogena, 58, worked as a bookkeeper, among other jobs. That afternoon, on January 28, she called Jo Ann to warn her against venturing outside in the icy weather gripping central Louisiana. Then she said goodbye, telling her mother that she and Tuttle were going to take a nap.
Less than an hour later, eleven armed Houston Police Department officers broke down the door of 7815 Harding Street and killed Rhogena, Tuttle, and their dog in a fusillade of bullets; autopsies would reveal that police shot Rhogena three times and Tuttle nine times. Four officers were also shot, allegedly by Tuttle, a 59-year-old disabled Navy veteran.
At a press conference that evening, Houston police chief Art Acevedo said that a neighbor had tipped off officers that heroin was being sold at the Harding Street home, leading a judge to issue a search warrant. Then Joe Gamaldi, the 37-year-old president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, stepped up to the microphones.
A native of Long Island who started his career in the New York Police Department, Gamaldi has a slender build and short stature—his former NYPD partner affectionately calls him a “good little man”—that belie his street fighter instincts. And on this night, with four of his officers in the hospital, he was ready for a brawl.
“We are sick and tired of having dirtbags trying to take our lives,” Gamaldi announced in his reedy New York accent, jabbing his forefinger at the assembled reporters. “And if you’re the ones that are out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy—well, just know, we’ve all got your number now.” To Gamaldi, the deadly Harding Street raid was the latest skirmish in what he considers a war on cops being waged by a panoply of sinister left-wing groups.