His work partner and friend Kerry Spencer, 23, had followed a similar path. He, too, had left school, had worked at the Piggly Wiggly warehouse and had young children. But he was also snorting $350 worth of cocaine a day, and was usually armed.
This wasn’t warehouse work, after all. Just two months earlier, in April 2004, their boss, Mr. Cooper, had helped set a Birmingham corner aglow with gunfire during a dispute that left two people wounded. He was arrested a short while later in his bullet-riddled white Buick.
For all the drugs and bullets, life at the 18th Street apartment passed without police interruption, Mr. Spencer would later testify. “Everyone around us was getting busted, but we never got touched,” he would say.
Except the police were now at the back door.
Curly and RoboCop
Officer Carlos Owen, 58, was a Birmingham Police Department fixture assigned to patrol the Ensley streets he knew so well. Though he was a graying grandfather with plans to retire in two years, everyone called him by a nickname based on an old hairstyle: Curly.
In his 26 years on the job, he had been shot at three times, bitten by a dog once and involved in too many chases to remember. He had led the police union and been repeatedly honored for his police work, including as Officer of the Year in 2002.
“He epitomized the community policing idea,” Bill Lowe, an Ensley business owner, would later tell The Birmingham News. He added: “He knew where the good guys were and where the bad guys were.”
Others praised Officer Owen as strict but fair.
“He was good to me,” said Lou Lou Chatman, 60, a self-described former drug dealer. “A couple of times he could have took me to jail. And even if he had to take you to jail, he would pull over and let you get rid of everything on you.”