After three combat tours in Iraq, Dabrett Black returned a deeply disturbed man, his family says.
He slept with guns, suffered memory loss and thought someone put a chip in his brain. He was convinced people were out to get him.
In recent years, his paranoia led to repeated confrontations with law enforcement -- the most recent this past summer when he fled from police and crashed into a deputy's car in Smith County.
On Thursday, police say trooper Damon Allen pulled Black over on a routine traffic stop near Fairfield. Authorities say Black retrieved a rifle and shot Allen several times, killing him. He was captured near Houston following a brief shootout.
It was the outcome his father feared for years since his 2012 discharge.
“He left here a perfect young man, but he came back all messed up,” says his father, John Black of Lindale.
Veterans who served with Black say the military failed him.
“There’s thousands of us roaming the states who have not been treated because the Army felt its quicker to kick you out than to get you help,” said Matthew Chappell, who medically retired from the Army.
Growing up in Lindale
Black grew up on a country road in Lindale, about 90 mile east of Dallas.
He played football. He is remembered as always having a smile on his face. When he graduated from his high school, his father suggested he join the military. One day in 2004, he drove to Dallas and did just that.
“He didn’t say anything to me or his mother,” his father says “He came back and said, ‘I done joined.'”
John Black was proud his son had followed in his footsteps. Both of them served in the infantry.
His family says he didn’t change much after the first combat tour.
But during the second tour, a bomb blew up one of the trucks. Black’s best friend lost a leg. Black suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost consciousness for three days, his family says.
“He hasn’t been right ever since,” said his estranged wife who asked that her name not be used.
By the time he left for his third tour, he was having marital problems and his career in the military was on a downward slide. He had been demoted from the rank of staff sergeant to specialist, soldiers who served with him say. They did not know what had led to that initial demotion.
“He was a dang good soldier, a good leader and an overall good guy,” Chappell says.
Randy Newman, Black’s former sergeant, stayed in contacted with him and talked to him as recently as two weeks ago. He had nothing but praise for his skill as a soldier.
“You didn’t have to ask him twice to do anything,” he says.
Worsening mental state
By the time Black returned from his third tour, his mental state had worsened further.
Eric Compton, who served with Black, recalled two disturbing incidents. Commanders were reading off the last four digits of soldier’s social security numbers. One of them had three sixes in it.
“He just kept saying, ‘666, this person’s the devil,’” Compton said. “It went from being funny to very off and weird.”
Another time, they were in formation when Black began saying he needed help. He says the commander told another soldier to pull him to the side and “get him out of here.”
Newman says Black repeatedly asked the military for help.
“I saw him lose rank because of his issues,” says Newman, who retired last year. “He went from being an NCO to being a solider and then after that he was just kept getting busted down until he had no rank anymore.”
Newman recalls a day in 2011 or 2012 when an enraged Black went up to the brigade and demanded help for his PTSD issues. He says military police officers arrested him and he was put in a mental hospital.
“They had him heavily medicated,” Newman said. “He was in and out of it...I think he was just at his breaking point.”
Not long after, Black’s family says he received a less than honorable discharge. That designation meant he had no access to the VA system to get help.
“Instead of them helping them, they pushed him to the side,” Newman says. “They pretty much wrote it off as you’re crazy and on top of being crazy, you’re faking it.”
John Black says his son came home a broken man. He suffered severe, constant headaches.
“He tells me daddy if you had a headache every day like I do he said I'd rather be dead,” his father says. “He said all I ask for is to be able to live like normal people.”
His father says Black didn’t like to talk about the military.
“He felt they mistreated him because he didn’t get the help that he really needed,” his father said.
Black and his wife, with whom he has two girls, separated about three and half years ago. She says she worried for years that he would kill himself or someone else.
“I told him he wasn’t right in the head and they should probably get him some help,” she said.
Skirmishes with the law
Skirmishes with law enforcement began two years ago.
In 2015, he was accused of assault on a public servant. In July, Black fled from Smith County deputies after they tried to stop him for routine traffic violations – much like what happened Thanksgiving. The chase ended with him crashing into a deputy’s car.
“He was always thought somebody was coming after him,” his father says.
Black’s father says he stayed with them for a few weeks after being released from jail. But more recently, he was staying with a cousin.
On Thanksgiving, he briefly dropped by their home. He didn’t stay to eat. His mother says she sent him a text telling him she loved him. He replied that he loved her, too.
Hours later, the worst fears of she and her husband would be realized. Both of them say they want the trooper’s family to share how sorry they are for what their son did.
“It tears me all to pieces because he’s my only son,” his father says.
His family and friends say they aren’t justifying what he did, but they believe the military bears some blame for not getting Black the treatment he needed.
“This is not a racial thing,” Newman said. “This is PTSD and not getting the proper help that he needed.”