Four police officers remain hospitalized Tuesday after being wounded in a gunbattle with two suspects while attempting to serve a search warrant at a suspected drug house in southeast Houston, according to Houston's police chief.
The suspects were killed Monday after about a dozen undercover narcotics officers were fired on as they forced their way into the home where authorities allege black tar heroin was being sold, Chief Art Acevedo said.
"Once the officers breached the door and the gunfire began from the suspects, one of the suspects actually retreated momentarily to the back of the room and then that suspect came back and again engaged the officers in gunfire," Acevedo said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
It was not immediately known how many officers returned fire, but the two suspects — identified Tuesday by Acevedo as Dennis Tuttle, 59, and Rhogena Nicholas, 58 — were later found dead after SWAT officers used two robots to go into the home and determined that it was safe to enter after the gunfire stopped.
Four of the officers were shot and a fifth suffered a knee injury.
Acevedo said Tuesday officers found no heroin there Monday, but they recovered marijuana, an unidentified white powder and two rifles.
Acevedo said two officers were shot in the face and that one of them is expected to be discharged from the hospital Tuesday. Dr. Michelle McNutt, chief of trauma surgery at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, said the second is facing several facial trauma surgeries.
Two other officers, including the one with an injured knee, were stable at the hospital Tuesday. Another officer who was shot was released after being treated for a shoulder wound.
Acevedo said the names of the injured officers are not being released because they work undercover, but he told reporters the 54-year-old case agent leading the narcotics team was one of the two critically injured officers shot in the neck. It is the third time the case agent has been shot in the line of duty, Acevedo said.
Acevedo expressed his personal frustration with what he called an epidemic of gun violence in America and said police are being "shot at on a regular basis" while officials have seen an increase in the number of officers who died by gun fire this year.
He also admonished lawmakers who are "elected to make a difference in policy" but "only offer prayers."
"To the elected officials, I appreciate your prayers, but we already have a community that prays for us," Acevedo said. "What are policy makers willing to do besides prayers to address a public health epidemic?"
He said while he supports the Second Amendment, "criminals will be criminals" and lawmakers need to act by closing gun-show loopholes where fire arms can be purchased without a background check.
"It's not anti-gun agenda. It's an anti-proliferation of firearms in the hands of people who have no business having guns," Acevedo said. "There are things that we can do that are not being done."
"This has been a tough day for our city," said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. "Pray for (the injured officers) and pray for their families."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement after the shooting was reported.
"This evening's horrific attack on police officers is a solemn reminder of the service and sacrifice our brave men and women in law enforcement make every day to keep us safe. The city of Houston and the Houston Police Department will have whatever state resources they need to bring swift justice to those involved. I ask all Texans to join Cecilia and me in praying for the officers injured, and for the continued safety of all law enforcement officers who protect our communities."
Fellow police officers were seen overnight coming and leaving from the hospital where their colleagues were recovering.
"We are sick and tired of having targets on our back. We are sick and tired of having dirt bags trying to take our lives when all we're trying to do is protect this community and protect our families," said Joseph Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officer's Union. "Enough is enough."
Follow the Houston Police Department's tweets for immediate updates.
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