A rare instance of accountability after a botched drug raid:
As Natasha Allen walked away from the Orleans Parish criminal courthouse Friday, 18 months after her oldest son was gunned down by a New Orleans police officer, she said that she might, finally, find some rest.
Former cop Joshua Colclough admitted Friday that he shot her unarmed son dead, during a botched drug raid that ignited racially charged tensions across the city.
He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and accepted a four-year prison sentence . . .
On March 7 of last year, Colclough was among a group of officers who raided her home on Prentiss Street in Gentilly, looking for evidence of drug dealing.
As they marched up the stairs, 20-year-old Wendell Allen appeared at the top of the staircase. He was shirtless, wearing only pants and a pair of sneakers.
He had nothing in his hands, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said Friday. He was unarmed.
But Colclough fired his weapon once. The bullet tore through Allen’s chest, into his heart and his lungs. He fell on the landing and died within seconds.
The video of the raid was just released last week. It's chilling. Note that the cops took down the door with a battering ram and stormed the place even though there were children inside. Here's a report from Fox 8 that includes the video:
I can think of only a few other cases where a police officer was held criminally liable for killing someone during a drug raid, and in those cases the police had engaged in other egregious misconduct. In the killing of Kathryn Johnston in 2006, for example, the cops had also lied on the search warrant affidavit and attempted to cover up their mistakes.
As District Attorney Leon Cannizarro explains in the clip, the pin-camera video from one of the raiding officers was critical to his decision to bring charges. Which is why, if these raids are going to continue, every one of them should be recorded in a format that cannot be altered or tampered with, and those videos should be archived and subject to open records laws.
I've been critical of Cannizarro in other contexts, so I should add that it's good to see a prosecutor impose some accountability. But let's be clear here. Throwing cops in jail for making split-second mistakes under unimaginably perilous circumstances isn't going to prevent future Wendell Allens. The problem is that bad policy keeps creating those unimaginably perilous circumstances in the first place. Over 100 times per day in America, police officers break into private homes to serve search warrants for consensual, nonviolent crimes. They aren't preventing violence, they're creating it. They aren't saving lives, they're putting lives at risk.
Until that stops, there will be more bodies.
HuffPost writer and investigative reporter Radley Balko is also the author of the new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.