BRYAN, Texas — The defense called their final witness in Day 8 of the Dabrett Black murder trial, a psychologist who has analyzed Black over several years since the shooting death of Texas State Trooper Damon Allen.
Proceedings did not progress to closing statements, however, as prosecutors brought forth rebuttal evidence to negate Black’s claims of self-defense.
Throughout the course of the trial, Black’s defense team has not posed his innocence by means of insanity. The defense continues to agree with the state’s conjecture that when Black fatally shot Trooper Allen in a 2017 traffic stop, he did so with intent, and with the knowledge that Trooper Allen was indeed a police officer.
The defense maintains that in the context of Black suffering from military-combat impose post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia, and traumatic brain injury, he killed Allen under the paranoid misunderstanding that Allen was a threat to his safety.
The psychologist who spoke at the start of the morning, Dr. John Matthew Fabian, reaffirmed diagnoses given to black previously by military doctors, elaborating that Black exhibits symptoms of PTSD such as persecutory paranoia, blame of others, distrust of others, and emotional avoidance.
Fabian said Black has exhibited issues with language and identifying emotions in others’ faces. He experiences delusions of persecution, hallucinations both of voices and figures not present, sleep issues, and anxiety. Fabian also noted that Black was suspicious at times that the VA was watching him with cameras, and that the CIA was seeking to detain him. This, Fabian posed, contributed to Black’s resistance to seeking mental health care.
When asked about the death of Trooper Allen, Fabian expressed his belief that Black killed Allen due to hypervigilance, misinterpreting the approach of a second trooper’s car as a threat.
“In this case, he’s misperceiving threats,” Fabian explained. “… he gets overly aroused, is misperceiving the threat. And when that that happens, you can fight, flee or freeze. What’s important in this case is that since those areas [of the brain] are impaired, leading to the paranoia, hypervigilance and persecutory delusions, he is … there is not a lot of thinking that will be going on.”
Ultimately, Fabian called Black “an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances.”
When cross-examined, Fabian noted that the text message exchange between Black and Black’s sister - in which Black showed off a rifle an made statements about not wanting to go back to jail – was a relatively new piece of evidence for him, and it did have an impact on the context of Allen’s death.
“It makes it more complex of an issue,” Fabian commented.
The defense rested after Fabian was dismissed. However, the state requested the introduction of rebuttal evidence, insisting they needed to address the mental health and behavioral claims made by the defense over the past week. They requested that presiding Judge Patrick Simmons allow for the review of several incidents involving Black prior to Allen’s death; specifically, two cases in which Black was charged with fleeing officers in a vehicle. Prosecutors also requested that the jury be able to hear from a jailer who would testify as to statements Black made shortly after Allen’s death.
Specifically, prosecutor Lisa Tanner read to Judge Simmons quotes she posed Black had made in jail: "I killed one and I'll kill ten more when I get out." And, while making a shooting motion towards a jailer, "Pop-pop,[there's] another one!"
The defense argued that expressions such as this following Allen’s death were suited for the punishment phase of trial, not guilt or innocence. Judge Simmons agreed. While the jury was allowed to hear about Black’s prior arrests, they were not permitted to hear testimony about his jailhouse comments.
The first incident reviewed was an attempted traffic stop near Palestine, Texas back in 2016. The jury was shown dashcam footage of Black’s vehicle failing to comply with a traffic stop, leading police on a miles-long pursuit. The pursuit ended in Black’s car only stopping when road spikes were applied. Officers broke through Black’s windows at the time and pulled him out of the car, pushing him to the ground and pressing his face into the asphalt.
Prosecutors asked the arresting trooper, who took the stand, to describe the threat that officers faced at that time, when Black did not comply with any instructions. Black’s defense team noted that though Black did not comply, his resistance was passive, and he never behaved aggressively towards officers. The arresting officer agreed with this statement but noted that he did not seriously harm Black, other than a scratch to the face.
A second incident reviewed took place in July of 2017, just months before the shooting of Trooper Allen. This incident involved Smith County deputies attempting a traffic stop on Black, during which Black sped away and ultimately crashed his car into a parked police vehicle.
The arresting deputy in this case, Kevin Londoff, was brought to the witness stand, and reviewed an interview he conducted with Black as Black was hospitalized following the crash and resulting arrest. The jury was allowed to hear the audio from this interview.
When asked why he fled the traffic stop, Black told Londoff on the recording that “the government lies.” He made a comment shortly after that:
"It's 2017, everybody says screw the law.”
Black then said that he just felt like running. Black noted that he did not intend to hit the parked police vehicle. He followed this statement with an unintelligible comment about police officer lives and black men’s lives.
The jury then heard testimony from James Bishop, the officer who had been in the police car hit by Black’s vehicle. Bishop shared his perception that he believed Black had hit him intentionally. Footage from Bishop’s dashcam was played for the courtroom, showing the wreck as it happened.
Bishop watched the video along with the rest of the courtroom, and was emotional while speaking afterwards. He told the court that his injuries from the crash permanently damaged his right arm, costing him his career in law enforcement. He explained that he now works as a nurse, physically incapable of police work.
The jury was dismissed at 4:00 p.m., with both sides closing. The judge informed the jury that closing statements will be heard Thursday morning, and deliberations can begin afterward.