[Ppnews] Omaha Black Panthers - Justice Dept. overruled ATF agent aiding FBI over unreliable informant
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 28 10:23:33 EST 2008
Original Content at
February 27, 2008
Justice Dept. overruled ATF agent aiding FBI over
unreliable informant in COINTELPRO plot against Omaha Black Panthers
By Michael Richardson
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's secret and
illegal war on the Black Panthers and other
domestic political groups called COINTELPRO was
closely directed by the top three officials of
the FBI who oversaw an eight-member directorate
in charge of the clandestine operation. At the
helm, making all important decisions, was
Director J. Edgar Hoover who had ordered FBI
agents to "disrupt" the Black Panthers.
William Sullivan, Assistant Director of the FBI,
was the point person who selected which of the
thousands of field COINTELPRO memos were to be
seen by Hoover. Sullivan testified to Congress
on November 1, 1975, about the nature of
COINTELPRO tactics used against the
Panthers. "This is a rough, tough, dirty
business, and dangerous. It was dangerous at times. No holds were barred."
The FBI had focused on Omaha's Black Panthers
early and monitored a 1968 visit to the city by
Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver where he
spoke to a rally of 400 people at a city
park. In 1969, the Omaha chapter of the Black
Panther Party was renamed the National Committee
to Combat Fascism and two leaders of the group,
Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (then David Rice), became targets of Hoover.
On July 20, 1970, agent Thomas Sledge of the
Omaha office of the Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms
division of the Treasury Department applied for
and was granted a federal search warrant for the
NCCF headquarters. The search was to be led by
Sledge and U.S. Marshal Lloyd Grimm who, along
with FBI and Omaha Police, were going to stage an
early morning raid the next day. A COINTELPRO
tactic used in other cities was to raid Panther
homes and offices on any pretext to be able to
gather documents and other information.
Sledge claimed in his application for the search
warrant that there were ten boxes of machine guns
"of Russian manufacture" and dynamite at the NCCF
headquarters. The dynamite was "15, more or
less, bundles of 12 sticks in a bundle wrapped
with cord or wire." The individual sticks of
dynamite were described as about 12 inches long, an inch in diameter and brown.
Sledge's boss, Dwight Thomas, Iowa-Nebraska ATF
area supervisor, approved the use of Sledge's
informant, an adolescent, and gave the go-ahead
for the raid. The Omaha World Herald learned
from its Washington bureau that officials within
the Justice Department initially approved of the
raid after U.S. District Court Clerk Richard Peck
signed the search warrant sought by
Sledge. Then, later that day, a call came from
the Justice Department cancelling the raid.
U.S. Attorney Richard A. Dier was asked by the
Omaha World Herald to explain the cancelled raid
on NCCF headquarters but declined to
answer. "I'm sorry but I cannot discuss the matter."
Dier was no stranger to the
COINTELPRO-orchestrated focus of law enforcement
on the Black Panthers as he had impaneled a
federal grand jury in December 1969 to
investigate Langa and a school he operated, the
Vivian Strong Liberation School named for a 14
year-old girl fatally shot by Omaha Police in the summer of 1969.
The explanation given by a Justice Department
spokesman for the cancelled search raid at NCCF
headquarters was that the search warrant was
based on "questionable information."
Sledge claimed his "questionable" adolescent
informant also had detailed knowledge of a recent
bombing at a black-owned business, Component
Concepts Corporation in Omaha. Sledge further
claimed he spoke with a man who had alleged
selling machine guns to NCCF members.
Ed Poindexter, head of the NCCF chapter, denied
any machine guns or dynamite were at the
headquarters. "We don't have anything to
.Actually, if they believe everything they
hear, we'd have an entire National Guard armory
stuck up here. We will be glad to let them search all they want."
Less than a month later, another adolescent, 15
year-old Duane Peak, planted a booby-trap bomb
that killed Omaha patrolman Larry Minard at a
vacant house and injured seven other
officers. Peak quickly confessed following his
arrest and gained his freedom after several years
in juvenile detention in exchange for testimony
against the two COINTELPRO targets, Poindexter
and Langa who deny any involvement in the crime.
Two Omaha Police detectives, Jack Swanson and
Robert Pheffer, both claim to have found dynamite
in Langa's basement, although their competing
claims cast doubt on both men. In Pheffer's
latest version of the story, told in an Omaha
courtroom in May 2007, an ATF agent was also
present at the search of Langa's house. Pheffer
did not specify if the ATF agent was Sledge. No
dynamite was pictured in Langa's house in
evidence photographs and the explosives only
first turned up in photos in the trunk of a police squad car.
Sledge is the older brother of James Sledge, one
of the seven policemen injured by the bomb that took Larry Minard's life.
ATF agent Sledge did have a role in the case
against Poindexter and Langa, taking evidence to
Washington, D.C. for analysis the week after the
bombing. Sharing custody of the evidence with
Sledge on the trip to ATF headquarters, according
to the Omaha World Herald, was Assistant Chief of Police Glenn Gates.
Gates' duplicity in the case would not be known
for years until after the trial when a Freedom of
Information release of COINTELPRO memos revealed
that Gates had asked the Omaha FBI Special
Agent-in-Charge to drop Bureau analysis of the
emergency call tape recording of the lethal
message luring Minard to his death. Peak, the
murderous adolescent witness against Poindexter
and Langa, had claimed he made the call but the
voice on the tape did not sound like him. Gates
did not want the exculpatory information known to
defense attorneys and succeeded in withholding the tape from the jury.
The COINTELPRO memo, dated October 13, 1970, was
from the Omaha FBI office to J. Edgar Hoover:
"Assistant COP GLENN GATES, Omaha PD, advised
that he feels that any use of tapes of this call
might be prejudicial to the police murder trial
against two accomplices of PEAK and, therefore,
has advised that he wishes no use of this tape
until after the murder trials of PEAK and the two
accomplices has been completed."
Poindexter and Langa were convicted of
first-degree murder for Minard's death by a jury
unaware of the withheld evidence, Hoover's
COINTELPRO orders, or false testimony by Omaha
Police detectives about the case. Both men are
serving life sentences at the Nebraska State Penitentiary.
The Nebraska Supreme Court is now considering
Poindexter's request for a new trial. No date has been set for a decision.
Permission granted to reprint
Authors Bio: Michael Richardson is a freelance
writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about
politics, election law, human nutrition, ethics,
and music. Richardson is also a political consultant on ballot access.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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