Heart-shaped balloons reading “John Collado In Our Hearts Always” floated above the crowd marching from Post Avenue in Inwood to the 34th Precinct this afternoon. Collado, the 43-year-old father of five, died in September following an altercation with a plainclothes police detective.
Collado’s family and friends, who led the march of about 100 people, chanted and carried candles and memorial pictures. They demonstrated to commemorate Collado, they said, and to question the circumstances of his death, currently under investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
On September 6, Collado intervened as police tried to arrest his neighbor, Rangel Batista, outside their apartment building at 17 Post Avenue. Police, family and witness accounts of the incident vary, disputing whether the officer identified himself. Collado was shot in the abdomen by the officer and died the following day in Harlem Hospital.
The family’s attorney, Patrick Brackley, identifies the officer as Timothy Connelly. The New York Police Department would not confirm the officer’s name because of the ongoing investigation.
The family also says that members were denied access to Collado before his death. His niece, Banayz Taveras, a nurse trainee, was arrested at the scene when she attempted to help him. She was charged with resisting arrest and interfering with governmental administration, Brackley says. Police also prevented the family from seeing Collado in Harlem Hospital.
Collado lived in Inwood all his life and was well known in the community. Married three times, he was unable to work in recent years due to back problems. Following his death, media reports cast Collado as “a former pro wrestler,” with sources suggesting he held the officer in a chokehold. Collado’s family and friends deny this, explaining he hadn’t wrestled since he was a teenager. “My brother was not a pro wrestler,” said Maria Collado-Wright. “I just want to make sure his name is clear.”
Collado was arrested eight years ago on drug-related charges, Brackley said, and after conviction, given probation. But Pablo Collado, his older brother, insists, “He was not a criminal in any way.”
Collado-Wright describes her younger brother as “always helping someone. He didn’t want anything in return. He did things with a sense of humor, always with a smile and he was really devoted to his children.” She spoke of him as a police supporter who’d once enrolled at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in hopes of joining the force.
Friends set up two Facebook groups following the incident: “Justice For John Collado” and “Standing Up For A Cause, Now Is The Time.” Combined, they have more than 400 members. Mike Jimenez, a childhood friend, emerged as a spokesman and planned the first demonstration, held 10 days after Collado’s death.
Officers assisted at today’s march, managing traffic. Speaking before the event, Deputy Inspector Barry Buzzetti of the 34th Precinct said participants “have every right to express their concerns and we’ll accommodate that.” He added that the police are in constant communication and are “entirely sympathetic” with the family.
Collado-Wright said the precinct has “opened their doors to us the best they can,” but later added that Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Paul Browne “haven’t spoken to the family,” or replied to their letters.
“This is the last straw,” said Jimenez. “I grew up here with a lot of people who are now drug dealers. A lot of them have been shot and killed and it hurts me. But with John, this guy is so straight up. He’s about the community and keeping the peace.”
Jimenez is wary of associating Collado’s supporters with anti-police sentiment. Although Occupy Wall Street protesters and anti-police brutality groups have expressed interest in the cause, “when they contact me, I tell them that we don’t want to make it into an issue of police brutality,” he said. “This is about John Collado.”
Jimenez plans to continue organizing demonstrations. “We’re going to keep coming at them until there is a resolution that is acceptable to the community.”
Meanwhile, the Collados struggle to adjust to life without John. “He was the heart of the family,” said Collado-Wright. “He always kept us together.” His mother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, is frequently hospitalized. Now, Collado-Wright travels from New Jersey to look after her.
Collado-Wright wants closure for her family – but that’s not her only goal. “We don’t want the community to forget what happened to John because it could easily happen to anyone,” she said, listing questions the family wants answered: “They would never send a cop alone. What was that cop doing there? The other person, why wasn’t he charged?” She also asks why restrictions were imposed on the family while Collado was hospitalized.
“That’s what hurts the most,” she said. ”We couldn’t say say goodbye.”