BRYAN, Texas — The fourth day of trial for Dabrett Black focused on Black’s mental health history and his state of mind at the time of killing Texas State Trooper Damon Allen. The jury learned the extent of Black’s combat experience while serving in Iraq, and the defense presented their argument that at the time of Allen’s death, Black was impacted by his schizophrenia, post traumatic stress, and traumatic brain injury.
Dabrett Black is accused of murdering Trooper Allen during a 2017 traffic stop in Freestone County. Black shot Allen with a rifle as the officer was inside his patrol vehicle, running Black’s information through an in-car computer. The shooting resulted in an hours-long manhunt for Black, resulting in his eventual apprehension by police K9.
Thursday Black’s legal team attempted to introduce expert witness from a sociologist who specializes in studying military culture and its effect on service members as they reacculturate into civilian life. The prosecution objected to this witness, arguing that his testimony would be more appropriate for sentencing. Presiding judge Pat Simmons agreed, and the jury did not hear from this expert.
Simmons did allow testimony from a psychologist who analyzed Black, Dr. Robert Stanulis. Stanulis reviewed all case evidence and all of Black’s military and medical records. He interviewed Black personally over the course of three days. Stanulis affirmed the diagnoses already given to Black by the military, agreeing that he suffers from post-traumatic stress [PTSD], schizophrenia, and a traumatic brain injury [TBI].
Stanulis discussed Black’s military history at length, noting that when Black entered the Army in 2004, he was declared neurotypical by the Army, and did not suffer from any psychological disorders at that time. Black, a truck operator and convoy gunner, saw three tours of duty in Iraq, during which he encountered improvised explosive devices [IEDs], fire fights, and mortar attacks.
"He was in active combat within the first few hours of landing,” Stanulis told the courtroom, describing Black’s first deployment. “He fired his weapon from the back of a truck at a vehicle from behind... causing the other vehicle to drive off the road. So, in the first few hours he used his combat training."
Both legal teams discussed how Black began abusing alcohol and synthetic marijuana, or “spice,” towards the end of his military service. Stanulis noted that spice cannot cause Black’s mental health disorders, and that at the time of his arrest in 2017, no illegal substances were found in his system.
Prosecutors repeatedly asked Dr. Stanulis if he believed Black had acted without intent when he killed Trooper Allen. They reiterated Black’s calm and lucid behavior throughout the traffic stop prior to the shooting; how Black had apologized for speeding and texting on his phone while driving. Black was also aware that he was travelling to Houston to see his sister, the prosecution pointed out, and understood that Trooper Allen was a police officer, not an insurgent on the battlefield.
Stanulis explained that service members are trained to respond to a threat without hesitation, choosing the ‘fight’ response in an instance of ‘fight, flight, or freeze.’ The prosecution questioned why Black had not fought police officers in past encounters with them, and why he chose to run from police in at least two incidents; one of which included the manhunt following Allen’s death. The defense reiterated their position that Black was psychologically triggered only once a second police car had pulled up behind Allen’s vehicle.
Throughout his testimony, Stanulis reiterated that different people perceive different items and actions as threats; especially a veteran with PTSD.
"What we see as innocuous, for them, is not,” he said.
Black’s intention to kill Trooper Allen, his decision making ability, and his control over his own mind have been the key points of contention in this case. Trial resumes 10 a.m. Friday morning at the Brazos County courthouse.