Saturday, April 16, 2011

The price we pay for our mistakes

Caleb Allen seems like a decent guy, a polite and well-spoken guy, sitting on his mother’s couch in a middle-class Huntersville neighbhorhood. But heroin, we know, takes the decent kids, too.

It first grabbed Caleb four years ago. He went from casual user to heavy user to jail, where he rediscovered God and has started the slow path to a clean life. It could be a moving story, if you believe in it.

You may have read about Caleb, 25, and his mother Diana. Caleb was arrested in February in a south Charlotte break-in, and Diana didn’t believe it. She called people from records she’d kept when her son was using drugs. When one man gave her a tip, she staked out and chased a red Jeep like the one police say was the getaway car in that crime and several others.

The duo she led police to have been arrested in South Carolina. Charges against her son have been dropped.

The response to the story fell into two camps. The police screwed up, some said, enthusiastically. Others noted that Caleb Allen contributed to his mess. “We’re not talking about a saint,” said one commenter.

Allen has read those comments.

“I’m definitely not a saint,” he says.

This is what he is: An addict. It began, he says, after high school. He had moved from South Carolina to Charlotte, where he’d lived most of his life. He worked the club scene, where temptations were plenty and he was willing. Alcohol and pot turned into ecstasy and prescription pills. Then one day, a friend of a friend introduced him to heroin.

“For a while, it was a once-a-month thing,” he says, but heroin was a hot, available drug in Charlotte. Allen began to use it every weekend, then every other day. He was busted for possession after a traffic stop, but that didn’t slow him down.

Then last November, he was charged for something worse: possessing and selling heroin. The reality, he says, is less sinister – in the addicts’ world, you get someone this if he can get you that. But the charges were real, and he found himself in Mecklenburg County jail. “I kind of just gave up,” he says.

Eventually, he traded his food tray to a fellow inmate, who had some books to read. Allen got “A Purpose Driven Life,” the spiritual bestseller by Rick Warren. Caleb had grown up a church-goer, a believer, and reading the book brought him an overwhelming peace. “I’ve never felt anything like that before,” he says.

The feeling stayed with him. He started going to church again, he says, and he showed up for the counseling and drug tests set up by Mecklenburg’s Drug Court program. He says he’s been clean since August, and he’s thought that once he’s ready, he could use his story to help others avoid his mistakes. “I told him, Caleb, this can be your gift,’” says his mother.

But on Feb. 16, police came to his house, cuffed him and took him downtown. His mug made it to the TV news. He was booted immediately from Drug Court.

He’s not sure why police paid little heed to his mother’s calls. Maybe they already had a drug addict with a red Jeep and thought A plus B equals C. But CMPD, coming off high-profile detective errors in a police shooting case last year, can and should be better.

No apologies have come, Allen says. In fact, the opposite – papers dismissing the charges say that police said they couldn’t prove that Allen wasn’t involved with the pair eventually arrested – but that they couldn’t prove he wasn’t.

But Caleb Allen isn’t bitter. Even some family members are skeptical, he says, and he understands. This is another struggle of the road he’s just beginning. The price you pay isn’t just time served, but that for a long while, people will assume the worst of you.

“I don’t have any credibility right now,” he says, on a Friday in Huntersville. Right now, what he has is the next clean day, and God willing, the next.

12 comments:

Collegegirl said...

we all make mistakes. here's hoping that Mr. Allen has learned from his and continues on the right path-even with "bumps" in the word.

Anonymous said...

"But CMPD, coming off high-profile detective errors in a police shooting case last year, can and should be better."

Peter this comment is a low low blow and defies any sense of journalistic integrity.

To assume or imply that all police are in total communication with each other at all times is ridiculous.
As far as I can see the "detectives" identified a possible suspect that matched the description of the male burglar and drove a red Jeep Cherokee. They got a match on a convicted heroin addict/dealer dealer and put that suspect in a line up. One of the witnesses of a burglary picked him out of a lineup.
Obviously, the police pursued charges. Upon learning the suspect wasn't likely involved they dropped the charges. Sounds like they did their job to me. Police are allowed to make "mistakes" are expected to make them in the course of arresting and prosecuting suspects. Not every lead is going to pan out. Many cases have multiple suspects and they don't just arrest the guilty one's. That is not the way the process works or is intended to work. There is an assumption that innocent people will be arrested and tried. The result is supposed to be that guilt can be determined by a court - not the police...

Anonymous said...

CMPD did NOT do their job. They jumped to a conclusion based on circumstantial evidence and then refused to consider any other possibility until a civilian literally FORCED them to. Then they demonstrated their lack of training by forgetting a minor detail like the need for a search warrant when forcibly entering a suspect's dwelling.

pstonge said...

Anon: Thanks, but you're leaving out some details. Police didn't simply drop charges when they learned they had the wrong guy. They initially paid little heed to potential evidence that the guy they thought they had wasn't the right suspect.

You are right that everyone makes mistakes, and I'm a fan of the police and have written about the good work we see from CMPD. This, along with the mistakes we saw in the Montgomery case, were more avoidable than a lead that didn't pan out.

Thanks,

Peter

Anonymous said...

It's just racial profiling, pure and simple.

He's just the most convenient suspect they could plausibly hang some charges on and look like they'd solved the crime.

It's another case of "round up the usual suspects".

Only this time it was some white guy.

JayCee said...

I, too, pray with you for your next clean day.

Anonymous said...

"On Thursday, the Observer told the story of Caleb Allen" ... uh, no. The South Charlotte Weekly broke this story a month ago. The Observer didn't credit them. Tara Servatius on WBT AM 1110 talked about this for weeks demanding the police drop the charges. Then the Observer FINALLY does the story, or, steals the story from South Charlotte Weekly and is too petty to credit them? Shame on you, rip off artists.

pstonge said...

Anon, 4:09: I didn't write "On Thursday, the Observer told you the story of Caleb Allen." I wrote "You may have heard the story of Caleb Allen" for precisely the reason you said - it has come from a number of places, including the fine reporting of South Charlotte Weekly.

Media routinely do follow-up reporting on other media's stories. If we had simply used South Charlotte Weekly's reporting - or Tara's good work - we certainly would've credited them. But we've done our own reporting, too. My interview with Caleb brought a different perspective this week.

Thanks,

Peter

Anonymous said...

"CMPD did NOT do their job. They jumped to a conclusion based on circumstantial evidence"
- The police should jump to conclusions even based on circumstantial evidence. The DA and the judge/jury may require more to go to trial or convict.
Better still, they had an eye witness positively ID the suspect. There is no indication the eye witness ever recanted their statement.
The fact that their was a connection between Allen and the other two suspects was made by using the contacts in Mr. Allen's phone, which is extremely unusual and would lead any reasonable person to believe that the witness likely saw Allen with one or more of the other suspects.

"and then refused to consider any other possibility until a civilian literally FORCED them to."
The did not refuse to consider any other evidence. They had no reason to listen to the concerns the mother of a suspect who was ID'd by a witness. until the mother produced the evidence. Then they acted on the evidence after they got the evidence.

"Then they demonstrated their lack of training by forgetting a minor detail like the need for a search warrant when forcibly entering a suspect's dwelling."
- Actually that is undetermined how they were trained or if they actually needed a warrant. There was question (risk assessment) over the search, not a legal determination.
The police were trying to determine if the couple lived there still and contacted the landlord. The landlord entered the dwelling by force, not the police. The landlord was believed to be in possession of the unit, not the suspects, and the evidence would have been admissible The police searched the unit believing the couple no longer lived there, meaning they didn't need a warrant. It turned out that the couple may have still lived there after the fact and that would have required a search warrant. Which is where the DA decided it would it was too big of a risk to take to court.

Anonymous said...

"It's just racial profiling, pure and simple."
Is this a serious statement? If the people witnesses saw committing the crimes were being reported as a white male and a white female, how are they not going to arrest a white person.


"He's just the most convenient suspect they could plausibly hang some charges on and look like they'd solved the crime."
- He was a felon, white male, 20's drove a red jeep cherokee and he was positively ID'd by a witness to a home burglary... Where's the "racial profiling"?

It's another case of "round up the usual suspects". Only this time it was some white guy.
- Well duh they had a perfect demographic match, same car, and felonies. A witness even ID'd him.

pstonge said...

Anon: Again, some facts being left out here, including that the positive ID came from someone who also ID'd a female suspect who wasn't there.

As our story said earlier in the week: "A witness picked him as the man in the couple she'd seen in a red Jeep pulling away from a south Charlotte home that had been burglarized. But prosecutors said the ID was based on a "single, fleeting encounter," and noted that the witness erroneously chose as the female suspect a woman who was out of town."

And no, police initially didn't act on evidence presented by Diana Allen. It wasn't until Allen's brother chased the Jeep and was joined by a state trooper that a detective wanted to know everything they had.

But the point of this column was not to criticize CMPD. (As I said before, I've written before about the good they do.) It was to show that the price Caleb Allen paid for his past mistakes is that people will assume the worst in him. He acknowledges this and understands that's another challenge that's part of his road back.

Thanks,

Peter

Bob said...

Its a long road back but you didnt go down the road overnight as you wont leave it overnight.Keep your chin up keep going to your meetings and remember you are often judged by the people you hang out with. You CAN do this i wish you luck you obviously have a great supporter in your corner.... your mom trust her confide in her and dont dissapoint her she loves you and your baggage.