Wednesday, January 24, 2007

7 Veteran Black Panther Party Members Indicted in 35-Year-Old Death of San Francisco Cop

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January 24, 2007

8 Arrested in 1971 Killing of San Francisco Police Officer


SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 23 — Eight men, including seven described as members of the radical Black Liberation Army, were arrested on Tuesday on charges of murdering a police officer here in 1971 and waging a violent five-year battle against the police and federal authorities.

The arrests, in morning raids in California, Florida and New York capped an investigation by San Francisco police into the murder of Sgt. John V. Young, who was killed by a shotgun at a desk in the Ingleside stationhouse on Aug. 29, 1971.

A civilian clerk was wounded.

New York police officials said two of the men arrested were the gunmen, Francisco Torres, 58, who was seized at his home in Queens, and Herman Bell, 59, who was rearrested at a New York prison where he is serving a murder sentence.

The rest of the aging men were said to have been lookouts, getaway drivers and participants in the assault on the police station and other attacks.

A statement by the San Francisco police characterized Sergeant Young’s killing as a part of a “conspiracy to kill law enforcement officers” from 1968 to 1973, a plan that included the murders of two New York police officers, four attempted murders of law enforcement personnel, the bombing of a police officers’ funeral at a San Francisco church and the attempted bombing of another San Francisco police station, as well as three bank robberies, two here and one in Georgia.

In New York, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said the arrests dealt a blow to the legacy of the protest group, a violent offshoot of the black nationalist Black Panthers, which operated from the late 1960s until the early 1980s. Mr. Kelly said the arrests testified to the long memory of the police, especially for the killing of one of their own.

“It is a good day for police officers in New York and San Francisco and everywhere else,” Mr. Kelly said in a telephone interview from Washington. “It underscores the fact that the law enforcement community is never going to forget.”

Soon after the arrests, current and former defense lawyers for several of the men said they were skeptical of the charges in the nearly 36-year-old case, saying the police had harassed their clients for years.

Three men were charged with Sergeant Young’s killing in 1975, The Associated Press reported, including one of the men arrested on Tuesday, but that case was dismissed.

A lawyer who represents Mr. Bell, Stuart Hanlon, said he thought that the case against Mr. Bell was based on a 30-year-old confession by a suspected Black Panther member that a judge threw out in the mid-’70s because it had been physically coerced.

“I think the police are outraged, and rightfully so, that one of their own was gunned down,” Mr. Hanlon said. “They believe they are right. But the belief does not make it so.”

Mr. Torres was one of the first arrested, taken from his red-brick home in Jamaica, Queens, before dawn. Also arrested in New York State were Mr. Bell, 59, and Anthony Bottom, 55, who were in prison for the murders in May 1971 of two New York City police officers, Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini.

All three men were charged with murder and conspiracy.

In San Francisco, the police arrested Richard Brown, 65, and Richard O’Neal, 57. They were held in $3 million bail with Mr. Brown charged with murder and conspiracy, and Mr. O’Neal, who is not believed to be a member of the so-called army, was charged with conspiracy.

The Los Angeles County sheriff confirmed the arrests of Ray Michael Boudreaux, 64, and Henry Watson Jones, 71, both of Altadena.

The police in Panama City, Fla., confirmed that they had taken Harold Taylor, 58, into custody without incident. He was held on $3 million bond.

The authorities said they were also seeking Ronald Stanley Bridgeforth, 62, on charges of murder, conspiracy and assault. Mr. Bridgeforth is thought to be living abroad.

In their statement, the San Francisco police said that in 1999 they began investigating again several killings of their officers after advances in forensic science had led to the discovery of new evidence in one case.

In 2005, a grand jury was convened to look into Sergeant Young’s killing. Four of the men arrested on Tuesday were called to testify. They refused, and were briefly jailed.

A spokesman for the San Francisco police, Sgt. Neville Gittens, said the investigation into Sergeant Young’s case and the other attacks would continue. Sergeant Gittens said the police and state attorney general were confident that enough evidence had been gathered to bring charges.

Mr. Hanlon said he doubted that the police had any new evidence.

“The only thing I can think of is the evidence they have from 1971 has been analyzed using a more sophisticated forensic science,” he said. “But that is not the same as having new evidence.”

Mr. Hanlon suggested that the police had long focused on the Black Panthers and other black power groups.

“I think there is a hatred of the Panthers,” he said. “Police who were around then hated them, and the animosity was clear.”

Mr. Torres’s lawyer, Michael W. Warren, said Mr. Torres was innocent.

“He’s been around in the community in New York for a number of years,” Mr. Warren said. “The F.B.I., as well as the San Francisco police, have known his whereabouts for all these years. He has been an integral part of this community.”

The police said Mr. Torres tried to ignite dynamite in the Ingleside stationhouse in 1971.

Outside police headquarters in Manhattan, Mr. Torres said as detectives escorted him, “It’s a frame up.”

Al Baker contributed reporting from New York, and Carolyn Marshall from San Francisco.

8 arrested in 1971 cop-killing tied to Black Panthers

By JOHN M. GLIONNA, Times Staff Writer
2:32 PM PST, January 23, 2007

BLA members arrested

SAN FRANCISCO -- Eight men were arrested today in connection with the 1971 shotgun murder of a San Francisco police officer in a case that authorities said involved a five-year conspiracy to kill police officers throughout the United States.

A joint task state and federal task force identified seven of the arrested as former members of the Black Liberation Army, a violent arm of the Black Panthers.

The arrests, which were made in California, New York and Florida, were the culmination of an investigation into the activities of the BLA, which in the late 1960s and early '70s "were bent on creating terror and chaos by assassinating police officers," said Morris Tabak, deputy chief of investigations for the San Francisco Police Department.

The eight men have been charged with the murder of Sgt. John V. Young, who was gunned down Aug. 29, 1971 at a police station here.

They have also been charged with conspiracy to murder police officers, authorities said.

The men arrested today were: Ray Michael Boudreaux, 64, and Henry Watson Jones, 71, both of Altadena; Richard Brown, 65, of San Francisco; Francisco Torres, 58, of Queens, N.Y.; Herman Bell, 59, and Anthony Bottom, 55, who are both incarcerated in New York state; and Harold Taylor, 58, of Panama City, Fla.

Another man, Richard O'Neal, 57, of San Francisco, was arrested on conspiracy to murder police officers. He was not charged "as an active participant" in the Young killing, authorities said.

A ninth suspect, Ronald Stanley Bridgeforth, 62, was charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and aggravated assault on a police officer in connection with the killing of Young. Bridgeforth was still at large.

Authorities said they will seek extradition of all of the men to stand trial in California.

The investigation, named the Phoenix Task Force, has for years been collecting evidence on a series of nationwide attacks on police officers.

Investigators today named four incidents in the years between 1968 and 1973, including the bombing of a police officer's funeral and the attempted bombing of a police station, both in San Francisco; the murder of two New York City police officers; and three armed bank robberies, whose proceeds, they said, were used to fund the BLA's criminal activities.

This is not the first time arrests have been made in the Young killing.

In 1975, three defendants were charged with the shooting, but a judge dismissed the case, ruling that evidence gathered against the men was gained through torture. An attorney representing one of the men has said that the police used cattle prods and wet blankets in an attempt to force a confession.

At a news conference in San Francisco, task force members refused to discuss specifics of their ongoing investigation. Several task force members addressed reporters next to visual aids that included an enlarged photograph of Officer Young, an undated mug shot of Bridgeforth, as well as an aerial view of the Ingleside police station where Young was killed.

Authorities said the probe into the death of the San Francisco officer was reopened in 1999 "after advances in forensic science led to new evidence in one of the unsolved cases," according to a press release.

They would not confirm that DNA samples were part of the evidence.

"There was a strong anti-government sentiment in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the BLA members were bent on creating terror and chaos by assassinating police officers," Tabak said. "We believe the motive for the crimes was the furtherance of these revolutionary views."

Investigators on Tuesday also offered a $100,000 reward for information into the 1970 killing of San Francisco police officer Richard P. Radetich. They declined to specifically link Radetich's death to today's arrests but said his killing happened at the same time as the other attacks on police.

On the night of Young's killing, five black men strode into the Ingleside station about 9:40 p.m. As the officer stood behind bulletproof glass at the visitor's window, one of the men stuck a 12-gauge shotgun in the speaking hole and fired. The buckshot caught Young in the chest and upper body. An office clerk was hit in the back but was not seriously injured.

A second officer in the station at the time dove to the floor when he heard the gunshots. He crawled over to the wounded Young, who gasped "Help me," according to a recent story about the case in a San Francisco weekly.

"The evidence we believe will show that the motivation of these men was to kill police officers," said Maggy Krell, a prosecutor in the state attorney general's office. "They ambushed an innocent person because of the uniform he wore."

Speaking at the news conference, San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong called Young's killing "coldblooded." She described him as busy in neighborhood affairs, "someone who was doing community policing before the term was even coined."

"Now," Fong continued, 36 years after this brutal death, arrests have been made."

Authorities said the arrests helped close an emotional historical chapter in which officers were targeted indiscriminately.

"We never stopped working this case," Tabak said. "Like other murders, you go back and check things double and triple. If you think about this, any group's targeting law enforcement for assassination strikes at the core of any civilized society.

The arrests, he said, were "a great sense of relief, a victory for law enforcement."


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