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Five Omaha policemen implicated in deception and false testimony in COINTELPRO case against Black Panthers

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Two leaders of the Omaha chapter of the Black Panthers' National Committee to Combat Fascism, Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice), are serving life sentences for the 1970 bombing murder of Omaha Police officer Larry Minard.  Officer Minard was killed at a booby-trapped vacant house while answering a call about a woman screaming.  Police arrested 15 year-old Duane Peak for the murder who quickly implicated Poindexter and Langa in exchange for a reduced sentence. Peak, the confessed killer, walked free in 1974.  Poindexter and Langa remain behind bars and both deny any involvement in the crime.

 

Poindexter and Langa had been targets of COINTELPRO, a secret and illegal operation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ordered by J. Edgar Hoover to disrupt domestic political groups.  Hoover had been personally kept updated on developments in his war on the Black Panthers by field agents.  The Special Agent-in-Charge of the Omaha FBI office notified Hoover directly about the case they were building against Poindexter and Langa. 

 

Five Omaha police detectives and command officials can now be directly tied to deception or false testimony  under oath about the case by examining court records, judicial decisions, COINTELPRO memorandums, and Congressional documents.

 

A then-secret COINTELPRO memo tells the story of withheld evidence--a recording of the emergency call that lured Larry Minard to his death--and implicates Assistant Chief of Police Glenn Gates in knowingly withholding evidence that would destroy the credibility of Peak, the state's murderous star witness.  Assistant Chief Gates, according to the FBI, sought to keep the recording away from the defense attorneys.  The jury never got to hear the tape with its lethal message.

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COINTELPRO memorandum, Oct. 13, 1970, 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."

 

A trip to Washington, D.C. and sworn testimony by Captain Murdock Platner to the U. S. House Committee on Internal Security gave rise to false statements to a Congressional committee about Langa, contradicted by the trial record.  At trial, and earlier at the preliminary hearing, Peak testified that a Panther named Raleigh House had supplied him with the dynamite. House was arrested but never prosecuted.  Captain Platner falsely testified to Congress that Langa supplied the dynamite, just several weeks after the preliminary hearing and the day after the COINTELPRO memo about Assistant Chief Gates.

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U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Internal Security, Oct. 14, 1970, p. 4889:

"Duane Peak, a 16-year-old boy who was arrested, testified in a preliminary hearing.  It is from this preliminary hearing you are bound over to the district court to stand trial. In the preliminary hearing he testified that David Rice [Langa] brought a suitcase filled with dynamite to his house or to somebody's house, I'm 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."

 

The questioning of the killer's family and Delia Peak, simultaneous with the police search of Langa's house, led to Lieutenant James Perry's false testimony in court to justify the search.  U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom best tells the story of Lt. Perry's false sworn statements in the case.

 

Rice v. Wolff, 388 F. Supp. 185 (1974) U.S. District Court, pp. 198-199:

"Lt. Perry's testimony that Delia Peak told him that Duane Peak, Edward Poindexter and David Rice were constant companions is in no way corroborated by the remainder of the record before me.  The police report of her interview reveals nothing about Duane Peak's being a constant companion of David Rice's, and the rights advisory form she signed indicates that only Sgt. R. Alsager and Richard Curd were present for her interview.  Moreover, her interview did not begin until the very hour police first approached David Rice's house and was not completed until after the decision has been made to enter his house.  The police report of her interview also reveals that she had seen Duane Peak at about 5:00 p.m. the night before.  Thus, it simply is not so that Duane Peak's family had not seen him in the two days before they had entered the petitioners house and is persuasive that Delia Peak's family did not make a contrary statement.  Finally, there is no indication in the police reports of interviews with Duane Peak's family prior to the entry of Rice's house that they were concerned that he might have been eliminated.  On the basis of the entire record before this court and having heard and seen Lt. Perry testify, it is impossible for me to credit his testimony in the respects mentioned."

 

Sergeant Jack Swanson testified at the murder trial that he went down to the basement and found the dynamite.  Sergeant Robert Pheffer backed up Swanson saying he first saw the dynamite when Swanson carried it upstairs.  Pheffer testified he never went down in the basement.

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At an Omaha court hearing in May 2007 in Poindexter's bid for a new trial, Pheffer testified that his trial testimony was not correct and that he, not Swanson found the dynamite.  The dynamite was never seen in the basement by anyone else and only first appears in an evidence photo pictured in the trunk of a police squad car.  Robert Bartle, Poindexter's attorney describes the contradictory testimony in an appeal brief to the Nebraska Supreme Court where the case is now pending.

 

Nebraska v. Poindexter, S-07-001075, Nebraska Supreme Court, Appellant's Brief, pp. 45-46:

"At Poindexter's trial, Sgt. Swanson testified that he found dynamite in Rice's basement at 2816 Parker and that Sgt. Pheffer was also in the basement when Swanson found it.  Contrary to Swanson's trial testimony, Pfeffer testified at trial that he (Pheffer) never went down into Rice's basement and that he (Pheffer) first saw the dynamite found by Swanson when Swanson carried it up from Rice's basement.  At Poindexter's post-conviction hearing on May 30, 2007, Pheffer's testimony about finding the dynamite in Rice's basement was significantly different from his sworn trial testimony 36 years earlier.  On May 30, 2007, Pheffer testified that he was the one who found the dynamite in Rice's basement at 2816 Parker on August 22 , 1970.  Pheffer claimed that Swanson was right behind him and that when Pheffer saw the dynamite, he became scared and told Swanson that they needed to 'get the heck out of here.'  When confronted with the discrepancy between Pheffer's sworn trial testimony in 1971 and his recent testimony of actually being the officer who found the dynamite, Pheffer swore that this trial testimony in 1971 was not correct, that 'the court reporter, somebody got it wrong.'"

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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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