If you were to ask, each of the Leatherwood twins would admit that their lengthy HPD careers as the Department’s first set of twin officers doesn’t quite have the necessary drama to make it to Hollywood.
This took place early in Poe’s distinctive judicial career when he established himself as the judge who gave long prison sentences and tough probation terms.
Brenda also was a class member and close friend of Officer Kathleen Schaefer, who died in the line of duty on Aug. 18 of the same year Brenda was wounded. Schaefer was fatally shot during an ill-fated drug bust.
An Athletic Family
“She was a good friend, sweet, nice and funny,” Brenda said. “She hated Dispatch so bad that she was trying to think of any way she could get out of it and into another division. She went up to Narcotics on the sixth floor at 61 Riesner, applied and got it. She had kids and was 32 or 34 when she went through the Academy.
“I went (from Dispatch) back to Beechnut and worked what was called ‘the power shift’ from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. I was on Patrol and wrote lots of tickets. I don’t remember how long she had to wait to get into Narcotics.
“It (her death) was horrible! I was a pall bearer with Belinda Hamilton and Julie Hardin. The others were males.”
Whatever their assignments over their years at HPD, the twins have been active athletes. That comes as no surprise, their dad, Curtis Leatherwood, was a star baseball player in his younger years, having played on a championship city team, Mechanics Uniforms, with long-time Rice University baseball coach Wayne Graham.
The girls’ older brother, Larry Stegent, was a star running back at Texas A&M and became the first round draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals before a terrible knee injury and resulting operation cut short his pro football career. Their other brother, Del, played in the Houston Astros minor league organization before injuries also cut short his career.
Both Curtis and Genevieve, the woman all these athletes called “Mom,” had full-time jobs and were devoted to athletics.
Curtis had a second job he loved – he was a professional umpire for games all around Houston. His daughters recalled that he true high point of his career came in 1965 when he was chosen to umpire one of the bases in the very first game played in the Astrodome, the Eighth Wonder of the World.
No, it wasn’t the famous game against the New York Yankees in which Mickey Mantle hit the first-ever homerun in the Dome. It was the night before when the Astros played what amounted to a pick-up game with their AAA farm team from Oklahoma City. The record show there weren’t too many fans attending. But it was Curtis’ finest hour.
The twins have had many fine hours in athletics. Both played volleyball at St. Pius and later starred on HPD women’s softball teams. They won back-to-back city championships in the 1970s with Belinda on second base and Brenda in the outfield.
Belinda played on Texas Police Olympics teams, both on all-female and coed teams, throughout the 1980s. Belinda’s career was somewhat shorter when she had her only daughter, Alli, in 1984.
Belinda was on women’s police teams that won the gold in the Texas Police Olympics and the coed team that earned a silver medal at the National games in Las Vegas.
Both twins are sergeants. Again, Brenda got the seniority, earning the stripes in April 1984 at the time she was pregnant with Alli. Belinda promoted in September 1986.
In a conversation with the Badge & Gun, both made it apparent that they have loved their careers in the Houston Police Department. Pressed good-naturedly about which of their policing mentors meant the most to them, Belinda answered the question a different way that got to her point.
“Even though we can’t think of a mentor at HPD,” Belinda said thoughtfully, “We just wanted to add that we got our work ethic from our parents. Probably the reason we had so much time to phase down is that we always came to work and rarely took off.
“Dad always had two jobs, his sales job and his umpire job. And Sis and I remember one time we begged Mom to stay home with us from her job.
“She said she could not miss work. Both of them were dedicated to their jobs and we learned that from them. They were our mentors! And we still miss them every day!”
As sergeants, both Brenda and Belinda have worked in various assignments over the past couple of decades. Brenda found a home in the Accident Division, while Belinda preferred Community Services, particularly enjoying her stint with the now-defunct Police Athletic League (PAL), a program that helped inner city young people.
While covering this wide area of experiences, they have never been partners, nor have they worked in the same division.
But in the last year of duties, one was in Traffic Enforcement and the other in Accident. “We got to drink coffee together and lunch together,” Belinda said.
They laugh at seeing the picture taken of them on their last day of work when they drank the last cups of coffee of their official policing careers.
Belinda’s Phase Down winds up April 25 and Brenda’s about a month later. In the meanwhile, they work their extra jobs as security at the design center of David Weekly Homes. Brenda is the only twin with two grandchildren, which are bound to keep her busy in retirement.
There is one big event coming up real soon. Belinda is getting married in April to retired CPA Andy Brown at the Golden Nugget Casino in Lake Charles. The two are both avid golfers and will spend lots of time on the golf course.
Now both are in Phase Down and are viewing their policing careers in their native city as great, meaningful experiences that have resulted in numerous friends, many of whom have retired ahead of them.
The twins are Brenda Leatherwood Roberts and Belinda Leatherwood. They were born in Houston and grew up in an athletically-active family that hailed from St. Pius High School (Gary Kubiak’s alma mater). Both began as clerks on the vast HPD back-up team. They wound up on Patrol and in other areas of assignment.
Let’s get to some more basics.
Belinda is 11 minutes older than Brenda. Yet Brenda has her “older” sis beat about nine months in HPD seniority. The two are not identical, have never worked in the exact same division at the same time and have seldom confused people with their generally ebullient looks, for they are not identical twins. In fact, Belinda’s eyes are brown and Brenda’s are blue.
They aren’t kin to Houston police officers of previous generations, becoming the first in their family to choose law enforcement as a career.
Brenda served as a clerk for three years, primarily in the Property Room, before entering Academy Class No. 89, graduating in March 1980. Her sis clerked in the Chief’s office, the Academy and the Property Room before becoming a member of Class 93, graduating in December 1980.
Belinda’s graduation became noteworthy when her twin sister pinned on her badge as both smiled for a newspaper photographer.
When all of Phase Down is said and done, this record adds up to about 70 years of HPD experience.
Early in that long tenure, Brenda became the answer to a trivia question emanating from the streets in Patrol: Who was the first Houston policewoman wounded in the line of duty?
Thank goodness we can laugh at the details these many decades after the fact.
On April 27, 1982, Brenda was working the night shift with a partner. Today she jokingly blames the incident on the hunger pangs of her husband at that time, a Homicide detective, David Roberts.
“He bumped me on the radio,” Brenda recalled. “He wanted me to bring him some food. I called him from a 7-Eleven to see what he wanted.”
Birdshot, Thank God
The order actually was never placed. As Brenda and her partner Greg Reed approached the convenience store, they encountered a robbery in progress. They proceeded to chase a truck with two males and a female in the front seat and another male in the back seat. The officers soon learned these suspects were armed.
“We started chasing them,” the veteran officer recalled. “They turned down a dead end. The suspect leaned out the passenger door of truck and fired at me.”
This male used a 20-gauge shotgun. He exchanged fire with Brenda, his second shot striking her in the face and shattering the eyeglasses she wore. Then the suspect’s gun jammed and Reed arrested him.
Brenda found herself with a number of pellets in the face along with pieces of the shattered lenses in her eyes. Ironically, her husband was the man designated by Homicide to handle police shootings that might take place on this shift.
“The night she got shot I was working evening shift,” Belinda remembered.
“She never called me at work,” Brenda said.
“I called her the night she got shot. I had an intuition. I was getting ready to say ‘Bye’ and said, ‘Brenda, be careful. I never called her at work. I should have said be careful better.”
Detective Roberts got the call about the police shooting and dutifully took out for the scene.
While en route he learned that the shooting victim was none other than his wife. He took off “like a crazy man” when Reed called him from the ambulance to tell him the particulars.
Fortunately on this fateful night, Brenda well leaned the difference between buckshot and birdshot. The suspect’s shotgun was loaded with birdshot. “They (the pellets) went up my scalp and traveled up my face,” she said. “They left the birdshot.”
The doctor determined that removal of the pellets would leave a noticeable scar and cause more problems than if he simply left in the 20 pellets buried in Brenda’s face.
Today these many years later the birdshot is a laughing matter. “The lead is weighting me down,” Brenda said through a hearty laugh. Then she kidded, “I’m 20 pounds heavier.”
The shooter, an escapee from an Oklahoma prison, got a life sentence for attempted capital murder of a police officer. When then-Judge Ted Poe (now a congressman) glared down at him from the bench, he said, “I don’t want you coming to Texas, especially from Oklahoma, to shoot our women.”