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Cop in Wendell Allen shooting charged

20th August 2012   ·   0 Comments

Officer turns down five-year plea deal

More than five months after a 20-year-old man was gunned down by a member of the New Orleans Police Department while standing on a staircase in his Gentilly home on Prentiss Street, a New Orleans family is still seeking answers and justice.

The family of Wendell Allen said early last week that it was frustrated that the officer who shot the 20-year-old unarmed man has changed his mind about pleading guilty to negligent homicide.

FOX 8 News was the first news outlet to report that the plea agreement was in jeopardy after District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro made an appearance on FOX 8’s morning news.

WENDALL ALLEN

Officer Joshua Colclough was to receive a five-year prison sentence in exchange for his guilty plea to negligent homicide.

“I am aware that he ultimately rejected the plea offer, and he rejected it because he believes he did not even commit the crime of negligent homicide,” said Police Association of New Orleans attorney Eric Hessler.

Colclough, 28, was indicted Thursday on one count of manslaughter. After a grand jury returned an indictment, the Orleans Parish D.A. said he would invoke a firearms sentencing provision that would mean a minimum 20-year sentence if Colclough is convicted.

Although prosecutors sought a $1 million bond, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson set bond for Colclough at $300,000 and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Colclough’s attorney, Pat Fanning, told the local daily paper that he was not pleased with the D.A.’s decision to invoke the firearms sentencing provision.

“Frankly, if they do that, that is an abuse of the statute,” Fanning said. “The statute contemplates a criminal committing an intentional criminal act and choosing to use a firearm, as opposed to a police officer who not only carries a gun in the line of duty, but is required to as a condition of his employment.”

Hessler said Colclough wants to be able to present his evidence to the court. “We fully support his decision to present his evidence and have the opportunity to go to trial… He is confident that he committed no crime,” Hessler continued.

“The family naturally is disappointed,” attorney Lon Burns, who represents the Allen family and is himself a former Orleans Parish prosecutor, told FOX 8 News. before the indictment on manslaughter late last week.

Burns and Allen’s family members met with the district attorney after the plea deal was not accepted.

“The biggest thing… with the officer deciding not to plead guilty is that the family thought they were going to finally be able to start the process of closure, but by the officer again deciding that he didn’t want to plead guilty, it broke the heart of the family yet again,” Burns stated.

Now prosecutors must decide whether to bring formal charges against Colclough.

“Before the end of this week we will take some action with regard to this matter,” Cannizzaro told FOX 8 Wednesday morning.

FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti said Colclough is taking a big gamble.

“It’s like the little boy who’s holding your coat, you know. You go fight, you can win, but it’s you… he’s going to be the one doing the time, not them,” Raspanti said.

“Unfortunately there’s indications that the D.A. may pursue second-degree murder, which is clearly not appropriate as evidence of the fact of the offer to plea to negligent homicide,” said Hessler.

“And if he gets found guilty of manslaughter or second-degree murder, he’s going to go to jail for a lot longer than five years,” Raspanti stated.

Wendell Allen was gunned down by Officer Joshua Colclough on March 7, less than a week after another 20-year-old Black man, Justin Sipp, was fatally wounded by cops while on his way to work at 5:30 p.m. While investigators said Sipp and his older brother, Earl, who was shot in the leg were armed, NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas confirmed that Wendell Allen was not armed and was shirtless when he encountered Colclough.

NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas said before the case was turned over to prosecutors that his department did a thorough and unbiased investigation into the shooting.

“From there, really we’re a spectator like everybody else, waiting to see how the criminal justice system works its way through,” Serpas said.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the way in which the investigation has been handled speaks to the changing culture at the NOPD.

“If something untoward happens and there’s a question about it, there’s going to be an open and transparent process that will lead to and lead through the legal processes,” said Landrieu.

Before last week’s indictment, the Allen family’s attorney said his clients were in a holding pattern, watching and working to make the wheels of justice continue to turn. “We’ll sit back and allow the district attorney to do his job,” Burns said.

NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas said Thursday that Officer Colclough would be immediately placed on emergency suspension without pay until the Public Integrity Bureau reviews Colclough’s case.

“As I’ve said publicly many times, the loss of life is tragic and affects us all,” Serpas said in a statement Thursday, “Our investigators conducted a fair, thorough and transparent investigation into the death of Wendell Allen. Once we had all the facts available to us, we turned them over to the District Attorney’s Office.”

“This is why we need a complete restructuring of the NOPD,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, president and founder of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly. “As things stand now, the mayor has his tentacles in everything and is trying to control anything and everything that happens in this city. He is not committed to changing New Orleans for the better; he simply wants to call the shots and control the damage done to his public image.

“We need to let the federal government know that we do not trust this mayor, city council or police chief to turn around the NOPD,” Brown continued. “It is the people who suffer the most when police break the rules and it is the people who must be the force behind reforming the police department.”

“I think it was a mistake to offer Officer Justin Colclough a five-year deal for the murder of Wendell Allen in the first place,” New Orleans businessman Ramessu Merriamen Aha told The Louisiana Weekly. “Five years for taking the life of an innocent 20-year-old with his whole life ahead of him? Oh no.

That’s beyond criminal.

“Officer Colclough needs to spend a very long time in jail paying for the life he took and the many hopes and dreams he shattered with his NOPD-issued handgun.

“How the Department of Justice could expect this police department and City Hall to turn things around in four years without major input from civilians and the federal government is beyond me.”

A court date has not been set for this case.

*Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article was originally published in the August 20, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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