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COINTELPRO prosecution of Black Panthers haunts Nebraska justice system while policeman's killers go free

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On August 17, 1970, an anonymous caller to the Omaha, Nebraska police emergency hotline reported a woman screaming at a vacant house.  Eight police officers responded only to find a booby-trapped suitcase instead of a crime victim.  Officer Larry Minard, the father of five young children, was killed instantly when the suitcase bomb exploded in his face.  The other seven police officers were all injured in the blast.  Minard was buried three days later on what would have been his thirtieth birthday.

 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation immediately responded to assist the Omaha Police track down the killers.  However, what wasn't known at the time was a secret directive from FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to "disrupt" the Black Panther Party by any means possible called Operation COINTELPRO.  The joint investigation, with a tainted agenda under the COINTELPRO mandate, targeted Omaha's Black Panther chapter called the National Committee to Combat Fascism instead of a real search for Minard's killers.

 

William Sullivan, Assistant Director of the FBI under Hoover, was the point person and chief architect of the covert COINTELPRO operation.  Sullivan served as Hoover's screener and selected Hoover's daily reading list out of the thousands of COINTELPRO memoranda and field communications that flowed into FBI headquarters each year.  Sullivan described COINTELPRO to a Congressional Committee on Nov. 1, 1975, as an operation where, "No holds were barred."

 

Sullivan's "no holds barred" policy was in effect when a decision was made and jointly-implemented by Omaha Police and the FBI Special Agent-in-Charge to let the unidentified caller who had lured Larry Minard to his death go free rather than endanger a plan to convict two Panther leaders, Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (then known as David Rice).  The two leaders had been COINTELPRO targets for two years before the bombing.

 

The story lay hidden for years behind a secrecy stamp at FBI headquarters in a COINTELPRO file and buried in little-known and long-forgotten testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Internal Security.  Three days of deception in October 1970 that led to Minard's killer's going free are documented in records now available to the public.

 

Within days after the bombing, a 15 year-old dropout, Duane Peak, was identified as the bomber.  Peak named a former Panther, Raleigh House, as the supplier of the dynamite and admitted to making the fatal call that lured Minard to his death.  Police stretched out the interrogation for days as Peak gave a half-dozen different versions of the crime.  Finally, Peak told the investigators what they wanted to hear, that NCCF leaders Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa  helped him build and store the bomb.

 

But there were problems with the official version of the case.  House, the supplier of the dynamite, was never formally charged or prosecuted for his role in the crime, raising suspicion that he was a COINTELPRO informant.  House spent one night in jail and was released on his own signature without posting  any bond.   The whereabouts of Raleigh House today are unknown.

 

Further, the voice of the deadly caller was that of a middle-aged man, not that of a 15 year-old, leaving an unidentified accomplice on the loose.  Poindexter and Langa, both in their 20's, were never suspected or accused of making the call.  Peak's older accomplice was still on the loose because Peak, apparently to protect the older male caller, continued to maintain he made the fatal phone call.

 

Shortly after the bombing, Omaha detectives rushed a tape of the emergency call to FBI headquarters for vocal analysis.  Police also made plans with the FBI to analyze other voice samples in an effort to identify the unknown caller.

 

At Peak's preliminary hearing in September he persisted in his claim that he made the emergency call and that House supplied the dynamite.  However, if the voice on the tape was not that of Peak the case against Poindexter and Langa, built upon the claims of Peak, would unravel.  Assistant Chief of Police Glenn Gates conferred with his COINTELPRO liaison, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Omaha FBI office that led to deceit that would seal the fate of Poindexter and Langa and let the deadly caller walk away from the murder.

 

October 12, 1970, the first day of deceit, would bring William Sullivan's first public admission that he had knowledge of the Omaha case in a rare public speech to a United Press International conference about the Black Panthers where he falsely denied FBI involvement in a "conspiracy" against the Panthers.  About Minard's death, Sullivan would say to the gathered reporters and correspondents, "On August 12, 1970 [sic] an Omaha, Nebraska police officer was literally blasted to death by an explosive device placed in a suitcase in an abandoned residence.  The officer had been summoned by an anonymous telephone complaint that a woman was being beated [sic] there.  An individual with Panther associations has been charged with this crime."

 

Sullivan would go on to describe a variety of violent acts for which he blamed the Black Panthers including the deaths of rival group members in California that later would be discovered as COINTELPRO initiated shootings.  Dismissing the growing body of evidence that there was some sort of a coordinated national effort against the Black Panthers that used illegal tactics Sullivan complained, "Panther cries of repression at the hands of a government "conspiracy" receive the sympathy not only of adherents to totalitarian ideologies, but also of those willing to close their eyes to even the violent nature of hoodlum "revolutionary" acts."

 

October 13, 1970, the second day of deceit, would put Omaha Police Captain Murdock Platner in Washington, D.C. in a committee room of the U.S. House Committee on Internal Security investigating the Black Panthers.  It would also be the date of a confidential memorandum from the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Omaha FBI office to J. Edgar Hoover stating:  "Assistant COP GLENN GATES, Omaha PD, advised that he feels than any uses 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."

 

The COINTELPRO memo continued, "[N]o further efforts are being made at this time to secure additional tape recordings of the original telephone call."  No more recordings, no more voice analysis, and no more search for the identity of the anonymous murderous caller. 

 

In May 2007, voice analysis expert witness Tom Owen testified about the sophisticated tests he performed on a recording of the emergency call in a bid by Poindexter for a new trial.  Owen testified before Douglas County District Court Judge Russell Bowie that to a "high degree" of probability the voice was not that of Peak.

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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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