Gentilly raid details show focus on marijuana
Published: Friday, March 09, 2012, 11:30 PM
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
There were no city officials holding news conferences and no new revelations from police Friday about the city's latest fatal police shooting, the second within a week. But the lack of news did little to settle a city fixated on the killing by New Orleans police of a 20-year-old unarmed man during a marijuana raid inside a Gentilly home.
Family members protest in front of NOPD headquarters during a news conference Thursday concerning the shooting of Wendell Allen. Allen's grandmother is at left, his sister Karen Allen is at center, and his aunt Crystal Butler is at right.
While offering no explanation yet for the single gunshot that killed Wendell Allen on Wednesday, police have pledged a thorough, fair, open investigation. Allen's family and supporters have already reached a conclusion: It was murder, they say, and some of them gathered outside police headquarters Friday morning to make themselves heard.
Though what prompted the shooting remains hazy, a more clear picture emerged Friday of the circumstances of the investigation that prompted the police raid that led to the shooting.
Allen was killed Wednesday evening in the stairwell of a Gentilly house by a single gunshot to the chest, fired by Officer Joshua Colclough. Police officials have acknowledged that Allen, a former high school basketball standout, was unarmed.
While not necessarily the focus of the probe into alleged marijuana dealing at the house, Allen was one of eight people, five of them children, inside when police barged in.
The plainclothed cops, cloaked in raid jackets, were looking for marijuana inside the two-story, red-brick house at 2651 Prentiss Ave. They allegedly found 138 grams -- about 4 1/2 ounces, more than what is typically in the possession of a casual user, but hardly the stash of a kingpin. Most of it was hidden in a black backpack inside a bedroom closet.
Initial police reports, warrant applications and court records make clear that the main target of the probe was Troy Deemer.
Deemer, 19, was arrested earlier Wednesday by Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies. His arrest laid the groundwork for the police search of the Prentiss Avenue residence.
Earlier in the week, a confidential informant had tipped Jefferson Parish deputies off to a man named "Troy" who was allegedly selling marijuana from the Prentiss Avenue home, according to the NOPD's application for a search warrant. The JPSO deputy contacted the NOPD and officers began a joint investigation.
On Wednesday afternoon, investigators allegedly watched Deemer leave the home with a white package and drive away. Deemer, who was charged earlier this year in New Orleans on marijuana charges, was stopped in Jefferson Parish. Investigators allegedly recovered a 1-pound package of marijuana from his car. He was booked there with possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
Based on that arrest, the NOPD obtained a search warrant for the Gentilly property. Less than 30 minutes later, the officers surrounded the house and announced their presence. Receiving no response, they broke through the front door, New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said.
At some point during their search, Colclough fired the shot that felled Allen.
Davin Allen, left, and Brandon Boles were each booked on a count of possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute.
Five children, ranging in age from 1 to 14, as well as two young men, Brandon Boles and Davin Allen, were inside the house. According to an initial police report, Boles, 19, and Davin Allen, 19, were found on the second floor of the house. Davin Allen, whose relationship to Wendell Allen is not clear, was lying on a bed in the master bedroom. Boles -- who appears to be mistakenly identified in the police report as "Brandon Allen" -- was discovered in another bedroom.
New Orleans Police Detective Ryan Vaught searched the house and found a black backpack "on top of a counter" in a bedroom closet, according to the report. A "vacuum sealable clear plastic bag containing vegetable matter" sat inside the backpack. And next to the backpack, police found a digital scale with marijuana atop it.
Both Boles and Davin Allen were taken to Orleans Parish jail and booked on a count of possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute.
The initial police report, which includes a short gist of the incident, makes no mention of the shooting. Boles doesn't live at the Prentiss Avenue home, but in the 2200 block of Odin Street, according to court records. Deemer has several addresses listed in court records, none of which are on Prentiss Avenue. It's not clear where Davin Allen lives.
Wendell Allen last March entered an "Alford plea" -- a plea deal in which the defendant is adjudicated guilty but does not actually admit guilt -- in a felony case charging him with possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute. He was given a five-year suspended sentence and released.
The NOPD also arrested a 17-year-old juvenile at the Prentiss Avenue home in December 2010 for being a principal to a purse snatching. Serpas said Thursday that someone in the house advised police that a handgun was "hidden inside the house." It was recovered late Wednesday, though police have not said it led to the shooting in any way. The NOPD said Friday that the gun has not been reported stolen.
The joint investigation was spearheaded by the 3rd District's narcotics unit, as opposed to the NOPD's centralized major case narcotics squad, which usually handles larger busts. In the week prior to the raid, the 3rd District unit investigated several complaints, made a single drug case, confiscated a gun, as well as drugs, according to the NOPD.
The warrant served on the Prentiss Avenue residence didn't appear to be considered a high-risk raid. In bigger cases, the narcotics units seek assistance from the NOPD's Special Operations Division and its highly trained tactical unit. Typically, a city ambulance will be on standby, a block or two from the scene.
Police spokeswoman Remi Braden said Friday that no officers, other than Culclough, are under investigation. The other officers on the scene are considered witnesses and are being questioned, Braden said. Also, she said, Culclough has not been involved in any other shootings.
Officers are permitted to use deadly force, such as firing a gun, when they have a reasonable belief that they or somebody else is in imminent danger of death or bodily harm. Allen's family has said he was shirtless, wearing pajama bottoms at the time.
Several of his relatives gathered with community activists outside police headquarters Friday morning to decry the shooting, the NOPD's actions and what they called a corrupt culture within the city.
"There have been egregious wrongs done to the black community of New Orleans," said W.C. Johnson, of the United New Orleans Front, a conglomerate of several community activist groups.
Several of the protesters, who numbered about 25 in all, called Allen's death murder.
"I want that police officer booked on murder, and I want it now," said Helen Shorty, Allen's grandmother.
"There is no justification," said Tanya Peters, Allen's aunt. "Mr. Allen was in his own home."
Several of the demonstrators also referenced the other recent fatal police shooting, that of Justin Sipp, 20. Sipp allegedly fired on police officers last week during a traffic stop in Mid-City.
Two officers -- Michael Asevedo and Anthony Mayfield Jr. -- were badly wounded. Sipp's brother, Earl, was struck in the leg by a bullet. The NOPD has said the officer's actions appear justified.
Community activists raised questions about that incident and talked of grave suspicions about the NOPD, concerns that they said were underscored by the Danziger Bridge and Henry Glover cases, in which police were found to have killed civilians and covered it up.
"How can I believe anything the NOPD says when they have a history, a proven history?" Johnson asked rhetorically.
Staff writer John Simerman contributed to this report. Brendan McCarthy can be reached at
or 504.826.3301 .
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