Filed Under:  Civil Rights, Crime, Local, News

Allen family says he was shot in the back by police; Community leaders hold a ‘prayer walk’ as NOPD re-enacts shooting of Wendell Allen

23rd April 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis
The Louisiana Weekly Editor

The family of an unarmed 20-year-old who was gunned down last month while standing shirtless on a staircase in his Gentilly home said Wednesday that Wendell Allen was shot by a New Orleans cop in the back and not in his chest as has been widely reported. The family made its case at a press conference at its home last week just a day after NOPD internal investigators gathered at the home to re-enact the fatal March 7 shooting.

Lionel Lon Burns, the family’s attorney, told reporters that he spoke with the embalmer at Gaskin, Southall, Gordon and Gordon Mortuary, Inc., who told him that Wendell Allen was shot in the back.

“[W]hen I asked the lady at the funeral home, she said it was a gunshot wound to the back,” Burns said Wednesday.

“For six weeks, the NOPD and Mayor Landrieu had me thinking my son was shot in the heart. To get a piece of paper saying my son was shot in the back, that’s a cover up to me,” Natasha Allen, Wendell Allen’s mother, told reporters.

“We want something done about this. We want the truth from somebody and I want the citizens to hear — this is a cover-up,” Helen Shorty, Wendell Allen’s grandmother, said.

A day earlier, a group of community activists, ministers and civil rights leaders had gathered at the home of Wendell Allen Tuesday afternoon to pray for justice in the racially divisive case and lend support to the slain 20-year-old’s family as members of the New Orleans Police Depart­ment’s internal investigative unit re-enacted the fatal shooting to gather information as part of its ongoing investigation.

Wendell Allen, 20, was fatally shot on March 7 by NOPD Officer Josh Colclough during the execution of a search warrant for marijuana. Although the NOPD has not completed its investigation more than six weeks after the controversial incident, police have reported that Allen was unarmed and shirtless when he was shot on the staircase of his Gentilly home. To date, Wendell Allen has not been linked to the marijuana allegedly sold in or near the home.

Among those in attendance were the Rev. Norwood Thompson, president of the New Orleans chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; W.C. Johnson, a member of the United New Orleans Front and host of the local cable-access show “Our­Story”; the Rev. Raymond Brown, president and founder of National Action Now; and a host of ministers that included the Rev. Marie Galatas, the Rev. Troy Lawrence, the Rev. Ernest Marcelle and the Rev. Glenn Green.

“We pray God that from this day forward, that the truth will come forward,” the Rev. Troy Lawrence of the SCLC’s Youth Ministries said Tuesday..

Also in attendance Tuesday was an FBI agent and Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson, who said afterwards, “We thought it was a successful — kind of a reconstruction of parts of what went down.”

Natasha Allen, Wendell Allen’s mother, shared her son’s mementos, including a basketball plaque and photos, with those in attendance and members of the media Tuesday.

“He was somebody, he was somebody,” she said. “This is their jersey, they retired his number. He was somebody, he was my child, and he was trying to go somewhere and it just happened too fast; it was too soon.”

“The family is not really pleased with the slow pace of the investigation,” the Rev. Raymond Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “They feel that because their son is African-American, the police department is taking its time investigating the incident. They’re also upset because the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office has not issued a cause of death — whether it was accidental or a homicide. The only way you can arrest the officer involved in the shooting is if the coroner’s officer classifies the death as a homicide — Frank Minyard has not done that yet.

“The family is very upset about the slow pace of this investigation,” Brown continued. “It’s been going on for almost two months now and they want justice.

“Just like in the Trayvon Martin case, we are saying that this police department is still covering up murders in this city. You would think that this police department would have changed after the Danziger and Henry Glover cases, but we are seeing that Police Chief Ronal Serpas is allowing his officers to retire and get their pension and not really charging them with crimes. That’s the problem we have: No one’s being charged with any heinous crimes in this department. The family wants to see this officer charged and convicted of this murder and this is not happening right now.”

“I’m ready for answers, I need answers,” Natasha Allen, told FOX 8 News. “I want to know what happened, I want to know why my son was killed.”

Responding to Wednesday’s de­ve­lopments, Orleans Parish Coro­ner Frank Minyard told FOX 8 News that the hole in Wendell Allen’s back was actually made to retrieve the bullet that was still lodged under his skin.

“What happened was, the path­ologist made an incision and he took the bullet out from the back and I’m sure that’s what the gentleman was saying about being shot in the back. He just saw the incision that the pathologist made,” Min­yard said.

The NOPD released a statement Wednesday that said the department is conducting a transparent investigation of the shooting and that “The Allens, as well as all of those involved in this incident, deserve a complete and fact-based investigation.”

“To reduce the pain being felt by the Allen family and to reduce the tension and unrest in our community, the New Orleans Branch NAACP is calling for the New Orleans Police Department and the Mayor of New Orleans to immediately release all photographs and video of Mr. Allen at the crime scene, all photographs and video of Mr. Allen taken by the coroner and all other objective evidence to address the issue of whether Mr. Allen was shot in the chest or in the back,” Danatus King, president of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP, said in a statement Thurs­day.

“Because of the concern of our community, and the unrest of our community, the requested photographs and videos must be released immediately, notwithstanding any ongoing investigation. Because the statement of the coroner saying Mr. Allen was shot in the chest is evidence and has been released notwithstanding the ongoing in­vestigation, all other evidence relating to where Mr. Allen was shot should also be released.”

Tulane criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf told WWL-TV that the funeral home report would carry little weight in a court of law.

“You’ve got to call other officers who are experienced in homicide, police officer-involved use of deadly force and pathologists who are used to making sense out of bodies,” Scharf said.

Asked about the latest report of Wendell Allen being shot in the back by Officer Colclough, W.C. Johnson said, “It sends an alarming message, but it is a consistent message that we have been receiving from the NOPD. That is that Black life is almost worthless in their eyesight. They do not respect Black women, children and men.

“It’s unfortunate that we have a situation where we have two men who have been brutally murdered and there are a lot of questions about it and the citizenry, especially the Black community, is taking it as if it’s okay,” Johnson continued. “I believe that if this had happened in any other urban city, the city would be either burning or (there would be) a hot spot for problems between the police and the community on a daily basis. I think it’s a sign of the times and the majority of Black folks in New Orleans do not want to face the reality of what is actually happening to Black people across the country. There is a race war that is being raged and the only people who do not know it is Black people. We’re going to do the same thing that happened to the Jews in Germany — they did not stand up until the 11th hour and it was almost too late. We’ve been at the 11th hour and we’re still acting as if we have faith, hope and expected charity from the white community and it’s not happening. It ain’t happening today.”

Johnson lamented the fact that large numbers of Black people in New Orleans have focused on parades, second lines and sporting events rather than the plight of Black people. “We into everything that is against the sanctity and survival of Black people,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “It’s unfortunate that we find entertainment a priority and survival is something that we can take or leave. It’s very unfortunate.

“I know that the white community has tried for years to paint a different picture, but that is reality in New Orleans — it has been and continues to be,” Johnson added. “If you just look historically, we as Blacks have always had problems with the white community in New Orleans. The white community has always treated us as if we were less than human—they’ve always treated us as if they still have us in chattel slavery, and they continue to do this. And I must add that the majority of Blacks continue to allow the white community to do this.”

Johnson has said repeatedly that part of the reason the NOPD is continuing to get away with violating the constitutional rights of Black people is the refusal of Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to do their jobs. “The independent police monitor is anything but independent,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “She is bought and paid for by the City of New Orleans to protect the status quo of New Orleans. I’m sure she probably thinks that I’m just setting out to attack her, but you just cannot keep turning a blind eye to the reality of what she’s said and what she’s done. The independent police monitor and the Office of Inspector General are two of the worse things that have happened to Black folks in New Orleans in recent years.

“The Justice Department, locally, is an arm of the problems that have been going on in the New Orleans Police Department,” John­son said. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is and has been a culture of corruption that has kept the NOPD and its culture of corruption protected and safe from any outside force coming in and interfering with its operations.

“The Justice Department in Washington, DC had an opportunity to see firsthand the culture here. Unfortunately, as much as Community United for Change tried to get the Feds to take a look at Jim Letten and his staff, they wanted to concentrate on the NOPD and what was going on there. Because of that, we are continuing to suffer.”

Johnson pointed to the recent resignation of a federal prosecutor after posting blogs about a number of elected officials and cases on nola.com as proof that changes need to made in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “If Jim Letten didn’t know it was going on, he should have been fired on the spot,” Johnson said. “If Jim Letten knew it was going on, he still should have been fired on the spot. There’s no way of getting around it — Jim Letten should have been fired three weeks ago. Bottom line.”

The Wendell Allen shooting took place less than a week after an early-morning NOPD shooting that claimed the life of Justin Sipp, 20, and wounded his brother Earl Sipp, 23, on March 1. The two incidents have spurred a series of protests including a March 31 protest that coincided with the NCAA Final Four men’s basketball tournament in New Orleans and an NAACP-sponsored March for Justice planned for Saturday, April 21.

“The truth be told, here in the city of New Orleans, this is our Trayvon Martin case,” the Rev. Norwood Thompson told FOX 8 News Tuesday. “We want justice to prevail.”

“What does this report show us?” attorney Lionel Lon Burns said Wednesday. “It shows us the truth is catching up with the lie.”

This article originally published in the April 23, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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