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Detective Jack Swanson withheld stolen dynamite arrests from jury in 'Omaha Two' bombing case

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The jury that convicted Black Panther leaders Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) for the August 17, 1970 bombing murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard never knew that three men had been arrested several weeks earlier in the city with a cache of stolen dynamite in their car.

 

Nor did the jury know the complaining witness about the seized dynamite was the same detective who later allegedly found dynamite at the home of Mondo we Langa.  Nor did the jury know that charges for illegal possession of explosives would quietly be dropped against the three men caught with the dynamite within a week of the conclusion of the April 1971 murder trial against the Panther leaders.

 

Jack Swanson, a sergeant in the detective division of the Omaha Police, was the star police witness against the two Panthers at trial with his claim of discovery of dynamite in the basement of Mondo we Langa's residence.  Swanson's claim was supported by fellow detective Jack Pheffer who testified he first saw the dynamite when Swanson carried it up the stairs from Mondo's basement.  Pheffer has since contradicted his own trial testimony and now claims under oath that he, not Swanson, found dynamite.

 

The jury also never knew that the case they were hearing was a part of Operation COINTELPRO, a clandestine operation within the Federal Bureau of Investigation directed by J. Edgar Hoover to "disrupt" the Black Panther Party and other domestic political groups he considered dangerous.   Hoover had ordered the withholding of a FBI crime lab report on the tape recording of the phone call that lured Minard to his death according to a written notation on a secret COINTELPRO memo made by lab director Ivan Willard Conrad.

 

The court files of the three men Luther Golden Payne, Lamont Mitchell and Conrad Deland Gray reveal little detail of the July arrests and there is no mention of the plea negotiations that resulted in dismissed charges.  All three men were still in custody at the time of the bombing that took Minard's life and could not have directly participated in the deadly ambush.  However, the dynamite was believed by police to be the source of the explosive in the bomb according to little-known testimony before the U.S House Committee on Internal Security.

 

The committee was the successor to the infamous U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities and was busy trying to justify its controversial existence with an investigation into the Black Panthers.  Although much of the testimony was on the national party structure and distribution of the party newsletter, one committee member, Rep. William J. Scherle from Council Bluffs, Iowa, lived just across the Missouri River from Omaha and turned the committee hearing room into his own soapbox against the Omaha Panthers.  Scherle's interest led to the testimony of an Omaha Police captain, Murdock Platner, about both the Minard bombing and the dynamite seized by Swanson in July, information kept confidential in Omaha.

 

Captain Platner's story, given under oath in Washington D.C., was never reported in Omaha and kept from the jury during the murder trial.  Platner testified about several other bombings that had occurred in Omaha and throughout the Midwest in the summer of 1970 when his Congressional questioners turned to the dynamite seized by Swanson and the dynamite used in the Minard killing.

 

"Investigation revealed this bomb consisted of thee 16-inch by 2 ½ inch sticks of dynamite, a battery, a blasting cap and was triggered by a clothespin type switch.  The string attached to the wedge was passed through a hole in the suitcase when the bomb was detonated."

 

"A 16-year old Black Panther [Duane Peak] was arrested for the murder and implicated the deputy chairman, Edward Poindexter, and deputy minister of information, David Rice [Mondo we Langa], of the NCCF party, who were arrested and have been ordered to stand trial in district court for murder.  Dynamite similar to that stolen from the Quick Supply in Des Moines was found in the home of one of the above.  It is believed it is part of the supply from which the bombs were made."

 

"On July 28, 1970, three young Negroes, one who is an ex-Panther, were arrested with 41 2 ½ inch by 16-inch sticks of dynamite in the car.  This is also similar to the dynamite taken in burglary in Des Moines of Quick Supply."

 

"I could not tell you what type of dynamite it was that exploded.  I can tell you this, that one of the suspects in this, Duane Peak, a 16-year old boy who was arrested, testified in a preliminary hearing…he testified that David Rice brought a suitcase filled with dynamite to his house or to somebody's house, I am not for sure just which place; that they removed all the dynamite from the suitcase except three sticks; made the bomb, the triggering device, and so on, and put it together; and then packed the suitcase with newspapers and that he left with this suitcase."

 

"Now I am a little hesitant to go into the rest of this because there is a trial yet to be held. I don't know what I should say."

 

But Platner had already said too much, misstating Peak's preliminary hearing testimony where Peak testified he was given the dynamite by 23-year old Raleigh House.  Platner, familiar with House, told Scherle's committee that "Rawleigh Bryant House" was a "Negro male" and the deputy minister of finance of the Omaha Panther group.

 

Raleigh House, the named supplier of dynamite used in the Minard bombing according to Peak, had a curious get-out-of-jail-free luck that netted him only a single night in jail before being released on his own signature by Douglas County prosecutors after being arrested for conspiracy to commit murder.  House never was formally charged for his role in providing dynamite to Peak and is a suspected police informant.

 

Upon further committee questioning, Platner returned to the dynamite discovered in July and described the bust that Swanson would later not tell the jury about.  "We received information from a party that had been approached to buy dynamite.  We had him buy it and he bought 10 sticks. It was 2 ½ by 16-inch sticks.  He came back later and said he could buy more of this dynamite.  So we set up for him to buy and then we were going to move in before it was delivered.  We did move in and arrested three young men in a car.  In their possession they had 41 sticks of this same type of dynamite."

 

"Two and a half by 16-inch.  This is Red Cross du Pont 50 percent strength dynamite….[W]hen these individuals were arrested in July, I called back and talked to the owner and the manager of Quick Supply and described the dynamite….He said if this was 2 ½  by 16-inch sticks, he was almost positive it had to be their dynamite….Quick Supply ordered a thousand pounds of dynamite on a special order from the du Pont Company specifying 16 inches long and 2 ½ inches in diameter.  This, as I understand it, is an unusually large size of dynamite to be used in quarries for blasting purposes.  Sergeant Gladson checked back with the manufacturer of the dynamite, and they told him that was the only shipment of that size dynamite in the year 1970."

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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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...of a frameup? Damn, this case really stinks!... by Hans Bennett on Friday, Nov 14, 2008 at 3:09:51 PM
The stolen dynamite frame-up.... by Clark on Friday, Nov 14, 2008 at 6:43:53 PM