Attorney Tracie Washington of the Louisiana Justice Institute leveled harsh criticism at the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) last week for its handling of 20-year-old Wendell Allen's killing by a police officer, specifically for not getting a statement soon after the shooting from the officer identified as the shooter.
"It is untenable and unprecedented" to have gone nearly a week without questioning an officer who's shot a civilian, Washington said at a March 13 press conference. She said the department told her that policy allows a waiting period before questioning officers in such cases. "We've heard there's a new 48-hour rule, then it was a 72-hour rule ... It has now been nearly seven days," Washington said.
Allen was fatally shot by NOPD Officer Josh Colclough in a Gentilly home during a marijuana raid, according to the police account. The day Washington spoke, an NOPD press release said investigators from the Public Integrity Bureau (PIB) sought a statement from Colclough, "but his attorney has not made Officer Colclough available to do so." Another release from NOPD spokeswoman Remi Braden two days later said Colclough had come in to make a voluntary statement.
According to Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, NOPD had good reason not to compel Colclough to make a statement: The Department is conducting a criminal investigation. "The Police Department has to conduct eventually two investigations" of fatal shootings, Goyeneche told Gambit.
One is an administrative investigation, where NOPD can force a statement. The other is a criminal investigation, where a suspect has the constitutional right not to incriminate himself. A forced administrative statement can't be used in a criminal trial. In a case of an officer-involved death — and in particular a case where the victim was unarmed — there is almost certainly the possibility for criminal proceedings.
"When there is the potential for a criminal investigation, PIB has to be very careful that they do not compromise the criminal investigation by proceeding with an administrative investigation," Goyeneche said. "You always have to default to a criminal investigation. That should take precedence over an administrative investigation. In theory you can conduct both simultaneously. ... But with a case like this, out of an abundance of caution, you don't want to compromise a criminal investigation."
Colclough's March 15 statement was witnessed by members of the Independent Police Monitor's office, according to the NOPD, but no details will be released until an active investigation is completed. — Charles Maldonado