Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Social World of a Drug Kingpin

This is the tenth in a series of posts inspired by a federal drug conspiracy case targeting a middle aged housewife and three of her children.

Once the Colomb name entered the federal prison grapevine everybody wanted a piece of the action. It began with young black men living within a one hundred mile radius of Church Point. Next, convicted dealers from Houston started contacting Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Grayson. According to their stories, Edward and Danny would buy drugs in the parking lots outside of a Houston strip joint, a 7-11 or a Whataburger.

Danny’s white Mustang 5.0 figured prominently in these stories long after the car had gone back to the finance company. Testifying to the grand jury in 2002, one inmate reported that Danny was at the wheel of a white 5.0. Asked if that was a Mustang the witness mumbled, “I guess.”

Eventually, inmates as far away as Midland, Texas (over 700 miles from Church Point) were informing on the Colombs.

The lives of Edward Henry and Danny Davis changed dramatically once they left High School in 1994. The adulatory write-ups in the local paper were gone and their social world had been systematically dismantled. The Carrier Club 88 was closed by 1995 and the Boulevard, Church Point’s youth drag, was also history. Whenever the boys got behind the wheel chances were good they would be pulled over by the Church Point police. Consequently, their social universe was almost entirely confined to their parent’s home.

Danny Davis and his brothers Edward and Randy were all dating white girls by the mid-90s. The boys were still popular with the girls and, with other social options eliminated, the Colomb residence became a substitute hangout. It was the only place white and black kids could interact without attracting negative attention.

Even so, the white girls who spent a lot of time at Ann’s place could expect to be pulled over for trivial traffic infractions after every visit to the Colomb residence. Tickets were rarely written, but questions abounded: “What were you doing at the Colombs? Don’t you know they deal drugs?”

Sometimes the remarks got personal. “What’s a good looking girl like you doing around a bunch of niggers? You’re too good for that.” (I have interviewed half a dozen white girls who frequented the Colomb home during the mid-to-late 90s and they all report this kind of harassment.)

Ann Colomb told her boys to keep a written record of every encounter with the police. A steady stream of young black males was now coming to Ann with horror stories of their own. Ann would accompany them to the courthouse and charges were repeatedly dropped when defendants refused to accept plea offers.

Edward Henry changed his surname to Colomb and married Tacha, his childhood sweetheart. He worked concrete under the remorseless Louisiana sun and endured the constant traffic stops with a sense of stoic fatalism. Tacha never saw him cry, but his mood was somber and he seem convinced that he was destined for prison no matter how hard he worked to avoid it. In the two weeks leading up to his wedding Edward was assessed $1600 in traffic tickets. He spent the ten days leading up to the blessed day in the local lockup because he didn’t have the money to pay the fines.

But Edward refused to leave Church Point. He worried about his parents and wanted to be there for them.

More sensitive by nature than his older brother, Danny Davis was on a slow slide into chronic depression. He told his therapist that if the police would leave him alone he could pull himself together. One day when a local cop gave him the finger, Danny snapped. “You’re just doing what you do because you know I can’t do nothing about it,” Danny roared. “Step out from behind that badge and I’ll whip your ass!”

This kind of response, though understandable, simply deepened his adversarial relationship with the local authorities.

Then Danny met Elizabeth Carrier, the daughter of a white Catholic family from nearby Carencro. Elizabeth grew tired of being stopped by the police every time she drove to Church Point and eventually talked Danny into moving to Opelousas, a larger town fifteen miles to the north. At the time Danny was driving an $800 1983 Buick Riviera with $1900 rims. He sold the rims to finance the move and started working construction.

When the transmission on the Riviera went out Danny was too poor to repair it so for two years he asked for a push to get rolling and parked with the wheels against the curb.

While in Opelousas, Danny enrolled in a technical college, working toward a degree in business machine repair. Danny hadn’t been much of a student in high school and it hadn’t helped when his teachers winked and gave him passing grades he hadn’t earned. But things were different now. Danny was up at six in the morning; he worked construction till five in the afternoon, then showered and drove to his evening classes. When they moved to Lafayette a year later he worked the graveyard shift as a garbage man and kept attending classes.

Graduation brought a decent job with a grown-up salary, a mortgage, and a new sense of self-respect. Elizabeth’s parents had grown up in Church Point and they were horrified by the idea of their daughter dating a black man. Rumors that Danny came from a drug dealing family didn’t help. Rodney Carrier knew he couldn’t stop his daughter from marrying Danny, so he screwed up his courage and paid him a visit. Danny told him he didn’t sell drugs and didn’t use drugs. Moreover, he loved Elizabeth and wanted to support and protect her. The two men embraced and Rodney drove home.

As Rodney and Lois Carrier became acquainted with the flesh-and-blood Danny Davis their concerns melted away along with the racial prejudice they had imbibed with their mothers’ milk. Danny started attending a Bible study at the Catholic Church in Carencro and on Wednesday evenings he and Rodney would knock back a few Bud Lites and talk about God.

Everything changed on October 22nd, 2001. At first only Ann and Edward were part of the alleged drug conspiracy. But one spring day, while rolling up to his parents place in Church Point, Danny Davis so a police car pull in behind him. The nightmare was back.