[Ppnews] ACLU cites COINTELPRO misconduct of FBI in 'Omaha Two' case

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 17 10:57:06 EDT 2008


October 15, 2008
http://www.opednews.com/articles/ACLU-cites-COINTELPRO-misc-by-Michael-Richardson-081015-435.html

ACLU cites COINTELPRO misconduct of FBI in 'Omaha 
Two' case pending before Nebraska Supreme Court

By Michael Richardson

The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil 
Liberties Union has filed an amicus brief with 
the Nebraska Supreme Court in the case of Ed 
Poindexter urging the court to consider abuses of 
the criminal justice system by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Poindexter and co-defendant Mondo we Langa 
(formerly David Rice) were leaders of Omaha's 
chapter of the Black Panthers called the Nebraska 
Committee to Combat Fascism and targets of a 
clandestine operation code-named COINTELPRO.  The 
'Omaha Two' were prosecuted and convicted for the 
1970 bombing murder of police officer Larry 
Minard.  Poindexter is now seeking a new trial 
from the state high court based on withheld evidence.

ACLU attorney Amy Miller has formally asked the 
Nebraska Supreme Court to consider the improper 
role of the FBI in cases against members of the 
Black Panther Party and wrongful convictions that 
have been documented in other states.

"In the 1960s and the 1970s, the Federal Bureau 
of Investigation systematically infringed upon 
the constitutional rights of many political 
groups under an expansive operation called the 
Counterintelligence Program, or COINTELPRO
In 
1976, the United States Senate Select Committee 
on Intelligence published the Church Committee's 
findings decrying COINTELPRO as a shameful 
infringement on the rights of citizens."

"The strategy of the program was to neutralize 
the "Black nationalist" groups through a program 
of disruption and fomenting distrust among 
members, particularly by targeting the leaders of these groups."

"As the Black Panther Party rose to national 
prominence, it became the focus of the Black 
Nationalist COINTELPRO and the FBI instructed its 
field offices to develop measures to cripple the 
party
.The Church Committee found these 
operations "utilized dangers and unsavory 
techniques which gave rise to the risk of death 
and often disregarded the personal rights and dignity of the victims."

"There is no question that COINTELPRO was one of 
the worst abuses of law enforcement power in 
American history
.Historians and scholars have 
also documented how COINTELPRO was a 
politically-motivated operation that 
systematically infringed upon the rights of 
American citizens and specifically targeted black leaders."

"The effects of COINTELPRO in specific situations 
are hard to uncover due to the secrecy of the 
program
.In Jones v. FBI, Harllel Jones was a 
former Black Nationalist leader who sought to 
compel the release of documents related to 
COINTELPRO investigations of him and his party, Afro Set."

"Jones's investigation into the targeting of Afro 
Set was initiated after he was convicted of 
second degree murder.
The facts of that are 
eerily similar to the case at bar.  On August 7, 
1970, there was a shooting of two men resulting 
in one death.  The shooting was apparently in 
retaliation for the killing of an Afro Set member 
by a security guard.  Relying primarily on the 
testimony of Robert Perry, an FBI informant and 
Afro Set member who was offered leniency in 
exchange for testimony, Jones was convicted of 
having conspired with the actual killers
.Based 
on the State's misconduct in hiding exculpatory 
evidence
Jones was finally exonerated and freed in 1979."

"Another case parallel to the case at bar is that 
of Elmer Pratt, a member of the Black Panther 
Party.  Pratt was convicted of a 1968 murder of a 
woman and the shooting of her husband during a 
robbery.  Pratt's conviction was based almost 
entirely on the testimony of a single witness, 
Julius Butler.  Butler had been a deputy sheriff 
prior to joining the BPP, and sometime between 
the incident and Pratt's arrest, he became an FBI 
informant even though he had been convicted of 
several felonies.  After becoming an informant, 
Butler's felony convictions were reduced to 
misdemeanors, parts of his record were expunged, 
and he was given probation without jail time for 
the felonies.  However, much of this information 
was withheld from the defense by prosecutors."

"Finally, this same pattern resulted in the 
successful habeas corpus petition of Black 
Panther leader Dhoruba bin Wahad (formerly 
Richard Moore) after he spent 20 years in prison 
on falsified evidence.  Wahad was a leader of the 
New York chapter of the Black Panther Party from 
1968 to 1971.  In 1973, he was convicted in New 
York State for the 1971 attempted murder of two 
New York City police officers, and sentenced to 
25 years in prison.  The evidence against him was 
based on an FBI informant who lied under oath."

"Each of these cases offer a similar pattern with 
elements that fit the COINTELPRO mold.  In each 
case, the defendant was charged with a murder, 
based on the testimony of an FBI informant.  The 
informant was either expressly under a leniency 
deal or there is evidence of such a 
deal.  Exculpatory evidence was withheld in each 
instance.  This pattern appears to be symptomatic 
of COINTELPRO-era prosecutions of Black Nationalist leaders."

"It is clearly established that Edward Poindexter 
and the Omaha chapter of the BPP/NCCF was 
targeted by COINTELPRO prior to the events of 
August, 1970.  The FBI already had a file on 
Poindexter, containing references to his 
political activities.  As early as 1968, the FBI 
records indicate an active "harassment campaign" against Omaha BPP members."

"Thus we know COINTELPRO was active in Omaha and 
was targeting Poindexter.  This targeting did not 
end after the isolation of the Omaha 
NCCF.  [Jack] Swanson was in charge of the Omaha 
Police Department Intelligence Division at the 
time.  He testified that the Intelligence 
Division amassed a file of the NCCF's 
publications as part of their 
surveillance.  Swanson also testified that it was 
part of his job to gather evidence about the 
NCCF.  Swanson also suggested that as the NCCF 
advocated violent killing of police officers so 
it was natural to arrest members of the NCCF when 
such a killing occurred.  However, he 
acknowledged that the BPP's platform did not advocate killing."

"Placed in context with what is known about 
COINTELPRO, Swanson's testimony verifies the 
Omaha Police Department was engaging in 
COINTELPRO activity on behalf of the FBI.  First, 
the Intelligence Division was gathering 
information on the Black Panther Party, a known 
target of COINTELPRO.  Second, the use of 
informants for gathering information was the main 
COINTELPRO tool.  Third, the FBI records with 
false disruption letters prove there were active 
efforts to neutralize Poindexter."

"Poindexter's original trial reflected COINTELPRO 
bias on the part of the prosecuting attorneys, as 
they introduced inflammatory newsletters and 
other Black Panther materials.  The written 
materials introduced by the prosecution were 
clearly protected by the First Amendment yet were 
calculated to inflame the jury's emotions against 
the defendants
.While the zeal of prosecutors in 
the early 1970's before Congress had fully 
uncovered the depths of COINTELPRO's illegality 
could be excused as a symptom of the times, it is 
of concern that at Poindexter's 2007 evidentiary 
hearing, the state repeated the same effort to 
color the case against Poindexter by 
re-introducing the issue of BPP's political 
work.  There is simply no explanation for a 
modern prosecutor to return to the issue of 
Poindexter's political work--unless Poindexter 
continues to be a target of retaliation for his 
First Amendment activities of almost forty years ago."

"Finally, there is similarity between 
Poindexter's situation and the Jones, Pratt and 
Wahad cases above.  First, Poindexter was 
convicted primarily on the testimony of Duane 
Peak.  While it is not known whether Peak was an 
FBI or Omaha Police informant, there are facts 
that suggest that his testimony may have been in 
exchange for leniency.  Most notable is that he 
was charged as a juvenile and not an adult, and 
thus received an extremely light 
sentence.  Second, key exculpatory evidence (the 
actual 911 tape) was kept away from the defense 
in Poindexter's case.  Memos between the FBI and 
OPD indicate a clear plan to deliberately avoid 
doing any testing on the tape for voice 
identification.  In October, 1970, one such memo 
said, "Omaha PD advised that
any use of tapes of 
this call might be prejudicial to the police 
murder trial against two accomplices of Peak."

"The FBI's COINTELPRO operations violated the 
civil liberties of American citizens.  This 
program has been condemned by the United State 
Senate and the Federal Judiciary.  It is 
demonstrably clear that prior to the August, 1970 
bombing, Edward Poindexter and the Omaha NCCF 
were COINTELPRO targets.  Given the deliberate 
withholding of key evidence such as the 911 tape 
and the reliance on a single juvenile witness, 
Poindexter's prosecution appears to have been a 
continuance of COINTELPRO.  This was clearly a 
politically-motivated prosecution of a black leader."

"The facts in this case bear too close a 
resemblance to the illegal activities that 
resulted in wrongful convictions of other black 
activists.  We urge this Court to bear these 
historical facts in mind while weighting the 
evidence in this case, particularly in regard to 
the plausibility of the government's evidence and 
in evaluating the amount of misconduct demonstrated by police and prosecutors."

***
  Permission granted to reprint.



Authors Bio: Michael Richardson is a freelance 
writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about 
politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. 
Richardson is also a political consultant.



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