In many ways, it seems like Dabrett Black was on a collision course to kill a cop.
In 2015, Black viciously beat a Smith County deputy and tried to take his gun. The deputy suffered a broken nose, two black eyes and needed six stitches to close wounds above his eyes.
And in new police video obtained by WFAA, Black is seen fleeing from police and leading officers on a high-speed chase this past July.
The video shows Black veer off the road and ram into Deputy James Bishop’s Tahoe. The crash was so severe rescuers had cut Bishop out of the crushed SUV.
Just a few weeks later, Black was out, set free on bonds totaling $15,000. After his October indictment, a judge raised the bonds to $400,000. He was wanted on those increased bonds when police say he pulled a rifle and fatally shot Trooper Damon Allen during a traffic stop on Thanksgiving Day.
When an officer interviewed him after ramming into the deputy, Black expressed no remorse for that incident.
“The way I look at it, it's another lawman down instead a black man down except he's still walking away with his life and ain't nobody fixing to pay his family $3 million,” Black tells the deputy. “You dig?”
When asked why he didn’t stop, he told the deputy that the “government lies.” He told the officer that he fled because he felt like it and he was having some fun. Black’s speeds during the chase down a dark county road topped 100.
“It’s 2017, everybody saying screw the laws,” Black said, according to the recording.
Black denied hitting the deputy’s Tahoe on purpose, though the video shows him clearly veering off the road and hitting the SUV.
He also brought up the 2015 attack.
“He got his (expletive) whooped and I tried to take his gun,” Black said. “That’s how dangerous I can actually get. And I’m going to let you know this, that day he would have actually lost his life if I wasn’t such a professional person with somewhat of a right mind.”
Black’s family has said he grew increasingly paranoid and fearful of law enforcement after serving three tours in Iraq and suffering a head injury. His family and fellow soldiers say he repeatedly sought help from the military for his mental health problems.
So why wasn’t Dabrett Black in prison or even probation for the 2015 attack?
Court records show Jacob Putman, a Smith County prosecutor, cut a plea deal in March 2016 dropping the assault on a peace officer charge down to a misdemeanor. He also agreed to drop a felony charge alleging that Black tried to take away the deputy’s gun.
Black was sentenced to one year in jail. He could have faced at least a decade in prison.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham says Putnam violated long-standing office policy by reducing the one case and dismissing the other without getting permission.
“(Black) should have been in the penitentiary for that. Period,” Bingham said. “There is no excuse for it. There is no explanation for it.”
Putnam is running for District Attorney. Bingham is not running for reelection.
Putnam told WFAA that he misunderstood the policy. He says he believed a 2013 policy change gave prosecutors like him the authority to reduce felonies to misdemeanors and to dismiss felonies as part of a plea bargain.
“I don’t think I was the only one with that understanding,” he said.
However, the 2013 policy he cites states, “Dismissals still need to be signed by either the First Asst., or the District Attorney.”
Putnam also says the deputy did not want to testify and he couldn’t make the case without him. The deputy had left the sheriffs’ department as a result of misconduct allegations.
“You can’t win that case without the deputy’s testimony,” he said. “There would be no complaining witness and no evidence of the assault. The dash cam is only admissible if the deputy testifies.”
Bingham says there may be others who failed to follow the rules and he is conducting an audit of his prosecutors to find out.
He also says the case was entirely prosecutable without the testimony of the deputy and that a capable prosecutor could get the video into evidence.
“Assume that he’d killed the officer, if I don’t have the officer, do I just not prosecute the case?” Bingham said. “We have the video. If we have to have the victim in every trial, we would never try murder cases.”
On his Facebook page, Putnam says the plea deal reached in Black’s case included him agreeing to submit to treatment for his mental health issues.
WFAA has learned there was nothing formal in the plea agreement that required him to do so.
“It was just an agreement I had with his attorney,” Putnam said. “The only way to enforce it with the court would have been to place him on probation.”
Bingham expressed his apologies to the trooper's window for the way the 2015 case was handled.
“I want her to know from the bottom of my heart how sorry I am and that I accept responsibly for what my office did,” he says. “The system failed her. It failed that trooper and my office, the decisions of one of my prosecutors, played a part in that.
Black is currently in jail on a charge of capital murder in the killing of the trooper.
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