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Remember Ronal Serpas, the New Orleans Police Chief (now superintendent) who used his federal drug asset forfeiture funds to buy shiny “Challenge Coins” from Odgen, Utah firm Symbol Arts? In June 2011 Serpas explained that the “challenge coins” were meant to motivate and reward officers:

It’s why Chief Serpas says he decided to do what he says has been done in every other department he’s worked for; reward officers for a job well done with a shiny reward.

“I find they’re very helpful in creating good morale,” says Serpas. “People like having them, they laugh about them. One officer once told me he had so many coins, he could play a poker game. They’re very good at building morale, and have been around for a long time and I like them.”

In February, Chief Serpas ordered 2000 of the challenge coins.

I don’t know if New Orleans police officer Joshua Colclough, shooter in Wednesday’s marijuana raid in Gentilly, received challenge coins from Serpas as part of his tenure with the NOLA police department. But given that the funds for these coins were bought with drug forfeiture money, and Colclough was involved in NOLA PD’s drug law enforcement efforts, it’s reasonable to assume that he was at least aware of the program. More directly, it is demonstrable that Colclough was incentivized to perform his job as part of an operation that raided suspects, seized cash, and rewarded itself with the proceeds.  Impartially be damned, this is law enforcement for profit.

But of course Ronal Serpas doesn’t understand this:

New Orleans police officials confirmed Thursday that the 20-year-old man who was fatally shot by a plain-clothed narcotics officer during a drug raid at a Gentilly house a day earlier was unarmed. New Orleans police officer Joshua Colclough, 28, fired a single shot Wednesday evening that killed Wendell Allen, 20. Police officials were guarded in their comments about the shooting Thursday, citing the ongoing investigation.

 ”We have not been able to yet completely understand what exactly occurred,” Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said Thursday.

The shooting took place inside a red-brick, two-story home at 2651 Prentiss Ave. in Gentilly. Officers were executing a search warrant at the home following a days-old probe of marijuana dealing. Serpas said officers later found drug paraphernalia and 138 grams of marijuana — about four and a half ounces — inside the residence.

Wendell Allen didn’t die just because Louisiana and federal law enforce marijuana prohibition. Wendell Allen died because Louisiana and federal law enforcement agencies are fundamentally divorced from the demands and desires of their constituents; the enforcement of this prohibition and the salaries of the enforcers are paid not through citizen mandate or legislative appropriation but through raids yielding seizures that the police can keep for themselves. Wendell Allen should be remembered not just as the victim of marijuana prohibition but as the victim of mercenary law enforcement.

There is a final irony here: Symbol Arts, the company who makes these challenge coins for law enforcement and SWAT teams around the country, is located in Ogden, Utah, where a January 4th nighttime marijuana raid on Iraq veteran Matthew Stewart resulted in a firefight that severely injured Stewart and fatally injured Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force officer Jared Francom. Like Ronal Serpas’s drug police, the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force is funded nearly entirely through asset forfeiture money and federal grants, and has a reputation for hunting and killing people in other raids, like the September 2010 murder of Tony Blair (below, which was actually caught on video by Officer Francom). Currently, the Odgen prosecutor’s office is seeking the death penalty on a charge of capital murder against Stewart, and is doing everything in its power to deny Stewart a fair trial.


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