December 4, 2000 Ex-Panther Sues Defiant Police for 19-Year Imprisonment By ALAN FEUER Nancy Siesel/The New York Times Dhoruba al-Mujahid bin Wahad, a former Black Panther leader, says a government conspiracy framed him for the machine-gunning of two police officers in 1971. He was freed in 1990 after his conviction was reversed. Dhoruba al-Mujahid bin Wahad has been itching for 25 years to tell his story in open court. His claims that the authorities wrongly convicted him for the attempted murder of two New York City police officers, then stuck him in a cell for nearly 19 years, have been around since the era when Huey P. Newton was raising his fist in a call for black power. His lawsuit against the city for malicious prosecution and false imprisonment harks back to the days when the black power movement and the law clashed violently on the streets of New York, the days when some of Manhattan's elite passed the hat for legal expenses for radicals who maintained that federal agents and city officers were engaged in a plot to infiltrate and silence them. This week, nearly three decades after that raw era, Mr. Wahad, a former leader of the Black Panther Party, will present his case: that the Police Department framed him in the machine-gunning of the two officers on Riverside Drive in 1971. "We have a jury here that we have to educate," Mr. Wahad said during an hourlong telephone interview on Friday. "We have to show them that the police would really do what they did to me. This isn't some sci-fi movie, some kind of history show on PBS. This is for real. They actually did this stuff to me." Mr. Wahad, now 56, was known as Richard Moore when he was a field lieutenant for the Black Panthers and a circulation manager for the party's daily newspaper during the Vietnam War era. He now lives in Ghana, where he runs cultural programs for West African youth, managing a pair of hip-hop groups and working with a local dance troupe. In United States District Court in Manhattan tomorrow, Mr. Wahad will seek $15 million in damages and argue that the Police Department and federal agents worked together to deprive him of his constitutional rights by manipulating evidence in his case. Lawyers for the police, on the other hand, will argue that there was no conspiracy to implicate Mr. Wahad, and that he did, in fact, gun down the two police officers, Thomas Curry and Nicholas Binetti, who, the lawyers say, were maimed but survived. But there will be a third palpable presence in the courtroom: history, which has left its imprint on the case, even as memories have faded and witnesses have vanished or died. It is a history that began May 19, 1971, when Officers Curry and Binetti were wounded in a burst of machine-gun fire while standing guard outside the home of the Manhattan district attorney, Frank S. Hogan. On July 30, 1971, Mr. Wahad was indicted on charges of attempted murder. Mr. Wahad's first trial ended in a hung jury; his second in a mistrial. But in a third trial, in 1973, Mr. Wahad was convicted by a jury that deliberated for less than an hour, and was sentenced to 25 years to life. In December 1975, papers in the lawsuit say, Mr. Wahad learned that Congressional hearings had disclosed the existence of a covert F.B.I. operation known as Cointelpro, a Nixon-era counterintelligence program that sought to disrupt and discredit the Black Panthers and other radical movements. Mr. Wahad filed a federal lawsuit against the F.B.I. and the city that month, arguing that he was a victim of the smear campaign and that the F.B.I. and the New York police had worked together to spread dissension within the Black Power movement. The suit said that the authorities had dipped into a bag of dirty tricks that included illegal wiretaps, office burglaries and the dissemination of inflammatory lies by agents who infiltrated the movement. As a result of Mr. Wahad's suit, the F.B.I. slowly released more than 300,000 pages of secret documents about Cointelpro, including an internal memorandum from J. Edgar Hoover, the F.B.I. director. In the memo, which recounted a long conversation with President Richard M. Nixon about the shooting of the two New York officers, Hoover ordered his top aides "not to pull any punches in going all out" to solve the shooting, including setting up a special team to work with the New York police. The F.B.I. records showed that the police and prosecutors failed to give Mr. Wahad's lawyers crucial information for his defense. The critical item that was withheld, the defense lawyers contend, was a tape-recorded anonymous telephone call by a woman to the police, saying that Mr. Wahad was not involved in the shooting. Through the F.B.I. documents, Mr. Wahad's lawyers learned that the woman who made the phone call had been identified as Pauline Joseph, who, as a witness for the prosecution, implicated Mr. Wahad. Mr. Wahad used these records and others to appeal his conviction, and on March 15, 1990, a State Supreme Court justice in Manhattan reversed it, ruling that the prosecution had failed to disclose evidence that could have helped Mr. Wahad's defense. In 1995, the Manhattan district attorney's office decided not to retry Mr. Wahad, saying that it could no longer make a case against him because so much time had passed. About 20 years after Mr. Wahad had filed his lawsuit, the F.B.I. settled, for $400,000. The city did not. "The bottom line is that he did it," said Daniel S. Connolly, a lawyer in the corporation counsel's office. "Our position is that there was no conspiracy and that this was not a malicious prosecution. The crime that he is alleged to have committed, he did, in fact, commit." The documents in the case read like a history chapter on black radicalism. An affidavit signed by Robert J. Boyle, Mr. Wahad's lawyer, for example, begins with a brief retelling of intelligence operations that focused on the Black Power movement, including references to the 1969 Panther 21 trial. The case was based on the testimony of three undercover police officers who infiltrated the Black Panther Party and said they had uncovered a conspiracy to blow up department stores and the New York Botanical Garden, bomb police stations and kill police officers. All 21 defendants, including Mr. Wahad, were acquitted in 1971. Efforts to reach Officers Curry and Binetti through city lawyers and through the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association were unsuccessful. But city lawyers said that they never fully recovered from their injuries. The march of time has not dulled the intensity that Mr. Wahad feels about his case. His conversational style is quick and aphoristic, then suddenly professorial. In one breath, he says he wants to spit on the graves of the officers who wronged him; in another, he delivers a rambling lecture on the dangers of globalism or the disenfranchisement of black voters in this year's presidential election. "I think given the facts of my false conviction, the truth will eventually prevail," he said. "The jury will see that the New York district attorney's office suborned perjury, withheld evidence and maliciously prosecuted me. I can at least tell the story of what happened to people like myself. And that's the most important lesson I can teach."
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