Ending an 18-month emotional roller coaster, former New Orleans police officer Joshua Colclough pleaded guilty to manslaughter Friday and started serving a four-year prison sentence.
Colclough agreed to the sentence as part of plea deal worked out with the family of 21-year-old Wendell Allen, who was fatally shot by Colclough during a March 2012 drug raid at the family’s home in Gentilly. Allen, unarmed and shirtless, was shot when he emerged at the top of flight of stairs, surprising the four-year patrolman.
Colclough fired a single fatal shot.
The plea hearing came almost one year to the day after Colclough turned down a negligent homicide plea that would have resulted in half the time in prison. The four-year manslaughter sentence means that Colclough won’t be eligible for release until he serves at least 40 months. Under the terms of the negligent homicide plea, he could have been released on parole after 20 months.
“His story has never wavered. But at the time he just wasn't ready to do it," said Colclough’s attorney Claude Kelly III.
Kelly said he wishes he could turn back the clock and accept the earlier plea deal, but said his client wasn’t psychologically ready to sign off back when it was offered amid personal turmoil and pressure from fellow officers to defend his actions as justifiable.
"Josh was at my office every day in tears,” Kelly said.
Colclough's attorney Claude Kelly said his client was ultimately motivated by remorse.
"He was steadfast on wanting to apologize to (his mother) Natasha Allen,” Kelly said. “That was his overriding concern. He felt true heartfelt remorse."
Natasha Allen accepted Colclough’s apology in open court, one day after the Allen and Colclough families met to finalize a rare plea deal in which prosecutors gave wide leeway to the wishes of both victim and perpetrator to hash out a compromise.
"His apology was sincere and he did it from the bottom of his heart,” Natasha Allen said.
At Friday’s court hearing, Allen gave a victim impact statement before Judge Keva Landrum-Johnson describing her son as a role model for her other 10 children, a prep basketball player who was the first in the family to attend college.
“He was like their father,” Allen said of her son’s influence on her other children. “He always said, “Ma, you don’t have to worry about me because I’m going to be something in life.”
Kelly said the Allen family’s grief was a motivating factor for Colclough to accept his punishment, even though he believes his client never should have been charged with a crime. But a grand jury thought otherwise, handing up the manslaughter indictment six months after the shooting and just days after Colclough rejected the negligent homicide offer after having a last-minute change of heart.
“It was an incredibly grievous decision that he made, but it happened in a split second,” Kelly said. “It was a dreadful decision.”
Lon Burns, attorney for the Allens, helped bring the two families together as they worked through their grief and hashed out the plea agreement. While many police officers distanced themselves from Colclough because he chose not to defend the shooting, Burns said the former officer should serve as a role model for accepting responsibility for a mistake.
“Officer Colclough, before he resigned yesterday, did step up and say, “Hey, look, I made a mistake. I shot an unarmed man.”
Before being led away in handcuffs to start his sentence, Natasha Allen requested a final word with her son’s killer. After the private meeting, Allen said she forgave Colclough and was satisfied that justice was served.
“I hope he takes this time out to do something positive,” she said. “He still has his life. I don’t have my son anymore, but he still has his (life), so I just hope he does something positive with it.”