Family of Wendell Allen files lawsuit against city
11th March 2013 · 0 Comments
The family of Wendell Allen, a 20-year-old gunned down by a NOPD officer while shirtless and unarmed in his Gentilly home during a drug raid, has filed a lawsuit against the City of New Orleans Wednesday in federal court, the local daily paper reported.
The lawsuit accuses the New Orleans Police Department of a host of civil rights violations in connection with the drug raid and fatal NOPD shooting that took place on Prentiss Street on March 7, 2012, according to court papers.
Officer Joshua Colclough fired a single bullet into the chest of Wendell Allen as police executed a search warrant to a marijuana investigation in the home. Allen,,20, was killed while standing on the staircase of his home with several of his younger siblings in the home at the time. No weapon was found on Allen and no weapons were found in the home during a subsequent investigation of the shooting.
The incident occurred just six days after Justin Sipp, 20, was fatally shot by New Orleans police and his brother, Earl Sipp, was injured while giving his younger brother a ride to work about 5:30 a.m.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the City of New Orleans, Officer Colclough, NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas, five unidentified NOPD officers and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. The lawsuit’s plaintiffs are Natasha Allen, the victim’s mother; her five minor children, Jazmine Jones, Tyronne Allen, Tyrea Allen, Nijae Allen and Tahmaz Allen; Davin Allen, Wendell’s brother who alleges that NOPD officers unjustly booked him with marijuana possession after the police raid; and two others who were present in the home when the raid and shooting occurred, Jaritho Ducros and her juvenile daughter, Jayla Berthelot.
The plaintiffs, who are represented by New Orleans attorney Lionel “Lon” Burns, are seeking damages associated with what they describe as the wrongful death of Wendell Allen.
The lawsuit comes as the mayor is seeking to convince a federal judge, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, to vacate the NOPD consent decree which the judge approved January 11 and the U.S. Department of Justice crafted to implement sweeping reforms in the embattled New Orleans Police Department.
According to court papers, Wendell Allen was a star basketball player at Frederick Douglass High School who attended Navarro College in Texas before returning to New Orleans to be near his family. At the time of his death, Allen was working for Richard’s Disposal. He had reportedly been out playing basketball with his friends and had just returned home just before the NOPD drug raid.
After an NOPD investigation, Officer Joshua Colclough was indicted by a state grand jury on one count of manslaughter and is awaiting trial. A trial date has not been set.
In a separate case, Earl Sipp, who was injured during a March 1, 2012 encounter with police that left his brother Justin Sipp dead near City Park, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of New Orleans on Feb. 27. Two officers were injured during that incident.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu raised the ire of some of the city’s Black residents and leaders when he called the cops involved in the shooting “heroes,” a word used to describe the cops who were indicted seven years ago in the infamous, post-Katrina Danziger Bridge shootings during which cops killed two unarmed men and wounded four others.
In an unexpected move last week, one of the cops involved in the shooting of Justin and Earl Sipp, former Officer Jason Giroir, filed a lawsuit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court against Justin Sipp, who was killed by police, and Earl Sipp, alleging pain and suffering, lost wages and emotional distress.
Giroir resigned from the NOPD after posting comments following the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin last year on wwltv.com that said “Act like a thug, die like a thug” while the investigation of the incident involving the Sipp brothers was still going on.
On Tuesday, state legislators gathered at Southern University at New Orleans seeking answers in a case involving nine plainclothes state troopers and a plainclothes NOPD officer accused of assaulting two Black teens in the French Quarter without provocation just two days before Mardi Gras. The entire ordeal was caught on a crime camera in the 700 block of Conti Street.
The first of several public meetings was held Thursday afternoon at the Mercedes.Benz Superdome seeking input from residents about the selection by a 10-member panel of a monitor to oversee the implementation of the NOPD consent decree.
“We stand with the families of Wendell Allen and Justin and Earl Sipp, and our thoughts and prayers are with them as they take this very important step toward securing justice for their loved ones,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, president of National Action Now and a longtime community activist, told The Louisiana Weekly. “As Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ and we are our brothers and sisters’ keepers. Their loss is our loss and their struggle is our struggle.”
“I send thanksgivings out to the Allen family,” W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of cable-access show “OurStory,” told The Louisiana Weekly. “As one of the activists who started this long journey with both the Allen and Sipp families, I am encouraged that our work in the community was not in vain. It is difficult for families to imagine the trauma of having a loved one killed.
“As a young man I had to live with this type of trauma several times, so I can personally relate to the various changes murder takes people through,” Johnson continued. “It is unfortunate that few Blacks process the murder of a loved one as a mandate for justice. Because of the history of the European law and order system, the families of murder victims are usually given minimal considerations as to what is available to the family in way of recourse and closure. To a large degree, the apathy found in the Black community is rooted in the callous treatment law enforcement agencies administer to Black people. This is why grass-rooted organizations provide an enormous service to the people of the Black community.
“Wendell Allen’s parents and grandparents were pushed to the limits because of the apathetic manner in which the NOPD, city officials and the carpetbaggers handled Wendell’s transition from this world to the next.
“The legal action by the Allen family should alert all people in the Black community that no matter what trusted friends and confidants say, when you are faced with a political execution, community activism is your best friend. I know many of the people in our community are trying to dismiss the racial aspect of this loss; but when Black folks continually stumble over overt racism, well, we must call a spade a spade.
“The City had an opportunity to handle the Wendell Allen execution in a different manner. Just look at what the City was willing to do for a white ‘father’ high on drugs, who was attempting to wrestle down a moving automobile to stop a carjacking. Racism by any other name is still racism.”
“The Allen and Sipp lawsuits are only but two prime examples of why the U.S Department of Justice is needed in New Orleans,” Johnson said late last week. “I am sure by now President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder both have separate folders for communication from CUC and W.C. Johnson. My message to them is always consistent: Send more troops, the Civil War is still raging in the South. New Orleans is leading the South in dismantling the Emancipation Proclamations and only applying the ‘convicted of crimes’ portion of the 13th Amendment.
“Most Black people know that the blatant acts of the NOPD would have never seen the light of day if it were not for President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder,” Johnson added. “Even Mary Landrieu knew; that is why she fought to keep Jim Letten as U.S. Attorney as a counterweight against police reform.
“This all signals the need for Black folks to stop waiting on someone else to do what Black folks need to do for themselves.”
*Additional reporting by Louisiana weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.
This article originally published in the March 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.