Two Bullets in the Back

Three cops. One kid on LSD. Something just didn't add up for Skip and Becky Allen, who filed a lawsuit to find out how their son died.

The fear began. At 1:35 a.m., Carolyn Deal was wakened by the sound of shattering glass. She roused her 62-year-old husband, Jack, who told her to get dressed, lock the bedroom door. She heard coughing just outside as she turned the lock. Jack, fighting the haze of sleep, put the telephone to his ear. "Uh," he said, "there's someone in our house."

Over the Bellaire police frequency, the dispatcher sent the call for a burglary in progress. The alarm was screaming when Bellaire police officer Dan Shelor arrived at 1:36. Officers Michael Leal and Carle Upshaw were close behind.

The Deals by then had retreated through a bedroom door to their roof. Crouching in the bushes, the police could see that most of the windows around the front door had been smashed. Leal and Shelor took positions in the front of the house, and Upshaw headed for the rear.

Then through a front window, a bicycle came crashing out. For an instant, a white male stood in the window frame. The officers shouted, "Get the fuck out of there!" And the man stared at them and disappeared inside.

Through another window, Upshaw saw him coming fast toward the rear. Upshaw, too, shouted for the man to come out, and this time, the man turned to the glass door and collided into it. The glass held, but his arms were already covered with blood. Staring at Upshaw, he tried to unlock the door. He couldn't. He walked away, leaving the glass smeared with blood.

Leal came back to help. Together, he and Upshaw yelled into the house for the intruder to lie down. The man emerged from the shadows then and began complying. The officers kicked more glass out of the window, and charged in after him.

They found him between the long white couch and an antique table. Down the barrel of a gun, Leal discerned that the intruder was only a teenager. Upshaw saw that the boy was not very big.

Holstering his pistol, Upshaw began putting handcuffs on the boy.

Five, maybe ten minutes later, Skip and Becky Allen were wakened by the ringing telephone. It was a friend of their son's.

"Uh, Mr. Allen?" said Mike Morgan. "I think Travis is in trouble with the police."

It was quickly decided Mrs. Allen would stay home with Gracie, their two-year-old. Mr. Allen snatched on his clothes and jumped in his truck. He found Mike at Trevor Ayer's house, and they sped through Bellaire. When Mike told him to turn onto Acacia Street, most of the Bellaire Police Department was already there, and a large clapboard house had been cordoned off with yellow police tape.

Mr. Allen pulled over and said he'd heard his son was in trouble here. When the officer asked how he knew this, Mr. Allen pointed at Mike, and Mike was taken away. The officer told Mr. Allen to wait. He stood by his truck and waited.

It began to rain. Mr. Allen stood in the rain, asking the passing policemen what was going on. At last, one of them answered: There was a deceased person inside.

Mr. Allen said his son was supposed to be inside, and couldn't he go in there? The officer asked him if he needed a priest or something. Mr. Allen said no, and he was told to wait.

The hearse came. A bag was carried away. Still, Mr. Allen gazed at the house and the landscaped lawn. He kept thinking his son would come running out, saying, "Daddy! I'm okay. I was in trouble, but I'm okay."

Instead, after three hours, a Bellaire policeman came out. He said there had been a struggle, and an officer's weapon had discharged. It had discharged into a person, and that person's name, according to the driver's license, was Travis Allen. He had then died.

Mr. Allen could go now. "We don't need you anymore," the officer said.

The Deals went to a neighbor's house. Mr. Allen drove home alone. And Bellaire police detectives stayed up all night July 15, 1995, trying to explain how a 128-pound, unarmed boy on LSD had been shot twice in the back by a police officer as the boy lay on the floor beneath another officer's boot.

In the days and weeks that followed, the local crime-solving community bent to the task. The medical examiner examined; Bellaire investigators investigated.

A grand jury heard the evidence and deliberated.
The result was no indictment.
The entire criminal investigation was wrapped up within two months; the officer who pulled the trigger was required to take only two days off work. He was absolved so quickly that Skip and Becky Allen were left breathless. They knew their son had deserved a great punishment; they couldn't accept the necessity of death. They lost 60 pounds between them. They went to church, joined grief-recovery groups. Determined to wring justice from the justice system, they finally found themselves in the office of a lawyer.

In December 1995, they filed a $25 million lawsuit against the Bellaire Police Department and officers Michael Leal and Carle Upshaw, alleging excessive use of force. The lawsuit has forced the Allens to relive their son's death, but has also uncovered many new details about it. Efforts to dismiss the case have been themselves dismissed. Last week, U.S. District Judge David Hittner scheduled the case for trial on August 17.

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