Adam’s Note: This is the 23rd chapter of a series for NorthOmahaHistory.com called Framed: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO and the Omaha Two Story. Written by author Michael Richardson (San Francisco Bay View, OpEdNews.com and Examiner.com). I believe this series tells a vital story missing from Omaha’s history. Its the story of men convicted with malice; a Black neighborhood terrorized by white supremacy; and justice long-sought and not gained.
“The facts here indicate the advisability of an ad hoc approach.”
—Hale McCowan, July 14, 1972
On May 1, 1972, in his column “Washington Merry-Go-Round” Jack Anderson published revelations about FBI dossiers on the private lives of political figures, black leaders, newsmen and show business people. In an appearance on Capitol Hill, hours after the column was published, Anderson promised to prove his charges with documents.[i]
That evening J. Edgar Hoover’s supper was his last meal. Omaha steak was a weekly favorite as it was on this night. After eating dinner, Hoover developed indigestion and at 8:00 p.m. went home from Clyde Tolson’s apartment and poured a drink for an evening nightcap before going to bed.[ii]
Helen Gandy, Hoover’s longtime secretary, later claimed that Hoover received a call at home from Richard Nixon sometime between 10:00 p.m. and midnight telling Hoover he must quit. According to Gandy’s account, Hoover called Tolson to discuss his conversation with Nixon. Gandy said she learned of the White House call from Tolson.[iii]
Hoover never saw dawn’s early light, he was found by his housekeeper on the floor beside his bed. President Nixon was alerted at 9:15 a.m. By 11:00 a.m., Hoover’s doctor had been to the bedroom as had the coroner and a public announcement was made. No autopsy was ordered. Hoover’s long reign at the FBI was finally over.[iv]
In July, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled on the joint appeal of Ed Poindexter and Mondo, upholding their convictions. The affidavit for the search of Mondo’s house was a central issue.
“In making the determination of what searches are reasonable we must also weigh society’s interest in continuing to allow such searches. We must be extremely careful not to completely disarm the enforcement officials of the weapons necessary to maintain order, which in turn would leave us all at the mercy of the unhindered criminal. Were we to uphold appellants in this case the bloody shirt worn into the police station by the murder suspect would be kept from the eyes of the jury. To use this would be deplorable folly. Therefore, we do not propose to initiate a rule that would dictate such a patently unjust result.”[v]
“Duane Peak, the actual perpetrator of the crime, testified for the State.”
“In addition to the physical evidence found in the search of August 22, 1970, at 2816 Parker Street, Peak’s testimony is corroborated by the following….Scientific examination of a jacket taken from Poindexter disclosed particles of ammonia dynamite which is the type used in the bomb and the type found in Rice’ basement. Like particles were found on Rice’ pants. Scientific testimony indicated that Rice’ pliers had been used to cut a bit of copper wire like that used in the bomb and found in the basement of 2865 Ohio Street, next door.”
Justice McCown concurred with the rest of the court but offered his own rationale. “I cannot agree that the affidavit involved here met standards previously applicable. The United States Supreme Court and this court have uniformly held that where informants are involved, an affidavit for a search warrant must inform the magistrate of (1) some of the underlying circumstances from which the informant concluded that the articles were located where he claimed they were; and (2) some of the underlying circumstances from which the officer concluded that the informant was credible.”
“The majority opinion concedes that recitals in the affidavit that the police had been informed explosives were kept at the residence and defendants had said that explosives should be used against police officers would be insufficient standing alone….Whenever active membership in an organization which advocates violence against the police or any other group or segment of society, and a public expression of individual approval of such views, standing alone, become justification for the issuance of a search warrant whenever an incident of such violence occurs, the Fourth Amendment has lost its meaning.”
“I would place the decision on a different ground. At the time of making the affidavit for the search warrant, the police department had ample information to constitute probable cause for the issuance of the warrant, but much of the information was omitted from the affidavit….The facts here indicate the advisability of an ad hoc approach permitting some flexibility in the court’s analysis of the individual circumstances of each case.”[vi]
At the end of July, Geronimo Pratt was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in California despite Kathleen Cleaver’s testimony that Pratt was four hundred miles away from the crime scene attending a Black Panther meeting. Attorney Paul Wolf has cited Pratt’s case as an example of FBI tampering with justice.
“There were other problems with the case which went beyond Pratt’s inability to assemble defense witnesses. For instance, it did occur to the defense that if the FBI were tapping the phones of the BPP national offices in Oakland during December 1968—as seems likely—the Bureau itself might well be able to substantiate Pratt’s whereabouts on the crucial night. The FBI, however, submitted at trial that no such taps or bugs existed, an assertion which was later shown to be untrue.”[vii]
“At the trial, the Bureau also submitted that Pratt was not the target of COINTELPRO activity; several hundred documents subsequently released under the FOIA demonstrate this to have been categorically untrue.”
The chief prosecution witness against Pratt was a FBI informant, Julius Butler, who alleged that Pratt confessed to him. Butler falsely testified that he was not a FBI informer.[viii]
In August, a one-week training course for FBI agents on bomb cases began. An agent from the Omaha field office attended a week-long “specialized training for selected Agent personnel regarding bombing investigations.” The eighty-four agents in attendance at the FBI training school in Quantico, Virginia, likely listened to the 911 call that lured Larry Minard to his death during one of the sessions. J. Edgar Hoover had ordered Paul Young to obtain a good copy of the 911 recording from the Omaha police for training purposes a month after the crime.[ix]
The annual review of George Moore’s racial unit, now renamed Extremist Intelligence Section, listed accomplishments. The inspection report was stamped SECRET and not declassified until years later. The report shed light on a counterintelligence target of the Omaha FBI office, Charles Knox.
“The Black Revolutionary Party (BRP) is an all black extremist, political organization which was formed in April, 1971, at an internal meeting of the pro-Red China Communist Party of Canada….Among 16 people present were four Americans including Charles Lee Knox, former Black Panther Party leader in Des Moines, Iowa, who was to lead this group in the U.S.”
“The BRP is self-described…as a black political party organized to fight “racial discrimination and violent repression” through formation of armed self-defense units.”
“Its activities to date have centered primarily around Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa; however, it is known to be active in Kansas City, Missouri, and Detroit, Michigan.”
“In June, 1971, Charles Knox and another BRP leader were temporarily detained by U.S. Customs officials, Detroit, Michigan, as they attempted to reenter the U.S. from Canada. A search of their automobile revealed numerous papers and pamphlets of a pro-communist nature.”
“In late August, 1971, two BRP activists were arrested for speeding and carrying a concealed weapon by the Iowa Highway Patrol. In this automobile at the time of arrest was an envelope addressed to PU Chao-min in Ottawa, Canada….He is also reported to be a Red Chinese intelligence agent. Also found in the automobile was an envelope addressed to Charles Knox from the International Section of the Black Panther Party, Algiers.”[x]
“In February, 1972, Knox was released after serving a six-month sentence for criminal contempt in Iowa. In March, 1972, Knox travelled to Canada where he apparently received instructions from the CP…to reorganize the BRP in the Midwest. He indicated at this time that he desires the BRP to operate in a covert capacity and where possible to utilize other legitimate organizations as cover for their activities and programs.”
“In June, 1972, information was received that Knox was moving BRP headquarters to Chicago and he would also take up residence in that city. Recent information has verified that subject has been in Chicago, however, he has also continued to be active in the Des Moines and Omaha areas.”
“Investigations of the BRP and its identified leaders and members are being aggressively pursued and where necessary closely coordinated.”[xi]
“In the past two years, many of these urban guerrillas have been apprehended and imprisoned for their criminal acts; however, their revolutionary efforts have not ended with confinement. They are engaging in increasing efforts to politicize the black prison community and to establish a political nature to their own imprisonment. They refer to themselves as “prisoners of war” or “political prisoners.”[xii]
On November 26, 1972, Jack Swanson was promoted from Sergeant to Lieutenant of the Omaha Police Department. Swanson’s role in the conviction of Mondo and Ed Poindexter was good for his career. Swanson eventually rose to the rank of Chief of Police.[xiii]
In December, Acting Director Mark Felt censured Charles Brennan for sharing a FBI investigative report with the Alexandria County Police Department about the murder of a police officer. Brennan, who had been demoted to Special Agent in Charge of the Alexandria FBI office, provided the local police with a report on the suspected killer.[xiv]
The censure followed an internal Bureau memorandum that discussed disclosure of FBI reports to local police and Brennan’s action. “We should not permit the action by the SAC, Alexandria to go unchallenged, for to do so, would give tacit approval to field offices to disseminate FBI reports to their local departments. The potential scope of such dissemination is beyond estimation, since in nearly all of our criminal, local agencies have concurrent interests. If FBI reports were indiscriminately furnished to police departments, they could very possibly become parts of police records which are made available to members of the press, and there is no end to speculation as to what use could be made of information from such reports. It is also pointed out that FBI reports, if allowed to be given to police agencies, would be available to local prosecutors, many of who are politically oriented and would be very happy to quote FBI reports for whatever purpose best suited them. We should continue to adhere to the firm policy of requiring field offices to advise FBIHQ of all instances wherein dissemination of FBI information to local authorities is considered warranted. Before disseminating a raw FBI report to a local police agency, the matter should properly be taken up with the Attorney General by FBIHQ.”[xv]
Brennan’s actions in Alexandria were a sharp contrast to Omaha where he approved withholding a report from local police.
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- [i] Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, Anthony Summers, p. 418, 1993
- [ii] Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Hack, p. 396, 2004
- [iii] Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, Anthony Summers, p. 419, 1993
- [iv] The decision to not have an autopsy, nor conduct toxicology tests, gave rise to several theories about Hoover’s death. One theory was that G. Gordon Liddy’s “plumbers” unit murdered Hoover with poison to simulate a heart attack. The scenario had Liddy’s team burglarizing Hoover’s house and planting a fast-acting poison where Hoover would ingest the toxin. The poison purportedly was the same kind the CIA used in the poison pen attempt on Fidel Castro’s life. Richard Nixon had assigned Liddy to come up with a plan to dispose of Hoover as head of the FBI. Hoover had many enemies and the lack of any official inquiry into the cause of death beyond a bedside visit leaves the question about the circumstances of Hoover’s death open.
- [v] There was no bloody shirt in the case. The phrase illustrates the court’s bias.
- [vi] State v. Rice & State v. Poindexter, 199 N.W. 2d 480 (1972), citations omitted
- [vii] COINTELPRO: The Untold American Story, Paul Wolf, p. 40, 2001
- [viii] COINTELPRO: The Untold American Story, Paul Wolf, p. 41, 2001
- [ix] Archive.org, FBI Domestic Intelligence Division-HQ, Vol. 5, p. 50, October 23, 1973
- [x] Archive.org, FBI Domestic Intelligence Division-HQ, Vol. 4, p. 151-152, August 21, 1972
- [xi] Archive.org, FBI Domestic Intelligence Division-HQ, Vol. 4, p. 152, August 21, 1972
- [xii] Archive.org, FBI Domestic Intelligence Division-HQ, Vol. 4, p. 156-157, August 22, 1972
- [xiii] Annual Report, Omaha Police Division, p. 8, 1977
- [xiv] Archive.org, Charles D. Brennan, Vol. 4, p. 260, December 13, 1972
- [xv] Archive.org, Charles D. Brennan, Vol. 4, p. 257-258, December 6, 1972
About the Author
Michael Richardson is a former Omaha resident who attended Westside High School and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Richardson was a VISTA Volunteer on the Near-Northside and served on the Nebraska Commission on Aging before moving from the state. Richardson attended the Minard murder trial and reported on the case in 1971 for the Omaha Star in his first published article. After a nineteen year career as a disability rights advocate, Richardson worked for Ralph Nader coordinating his ballot access campaigns in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Richardson has written extensively for the San Francisco Bay View, OpEdNews.com and Examiner.com about the trial while spending the last decade researching and writing the book.
- “Framed” Preface by Michael Richardson
- A Timeline of Race and Racism in Omaha
- A History of Racism in Omaha
- Black History in Omaha