Friday, August 20, 2010

August brings COINTELPRO blues to Omaha each year

Omaha policeman Larry Minard's killer got away with murder by order of J. Edgar Hoover
Photo: Official photo

On August 17, 1970, Omaha police officer Larry Minard was killed with an ambush bomb while responding to a 911 call about a woman screaming in a vacant house. Omaha remains wounded with a malaise from the terrible crime forty years ago that left five young children fatherless and a new widow burying her husband on what would have been his 30th birthday.

After a massive sweep that netted 60 people, the Omaha Police Department narrowed the suspect list to a handful of individuals affiliated with the National Committee to Combat Fascism, a Black Panther affiliate group. Ultimately, only two of the suspects went to trial, Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice), the leaders of the local group.

J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had been monitoring racial unrest in Omaha as part of his effort to control American political activity, Operation COINTELPRO. The public was kept unaware of COINTELPRO until after the break-in of an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, put secret COINTELPRO files on display.

Although hundreds of groups and thousands of individuals were COINTELPRO targets, Hoover went after the Black Panthers with lethal ferocity.

Hoover had grown irritated with the Omaha FBI field office for not getting results against the Panther leadership and in a series of memorandums gave suggestions on anonymous rumors, anonymous letters, an ambush to prevent the distribution of Panther newspapers, and other measures.

In December 1969, Hoover ordered the Omaha FBI agents to be “imaginative” in their efforts to remove the Panther leadership. The break came when Minard was killed. Before the police officer was even buried the agents had conspired with Glen Gates, assistant chief of the Omaha Police Department, to dispose of the 911 tape.

Instead of a search for Minard’s killer, the police investigation soon became a COINTELPRO effort to convict the Panther leadership.

The recording of the 911 call containing the voice of Minard’s killer was sent to FBI headquarters, supposedly to be analyzed to determine the killer’s identity, but instead disappeared from the public record and never was offered to the defense at trial and was kept from the jury.

When the head of the FBI crime lab, Irving Conrad, got the order to not issue a report on the tape he talked with Hoover on the telephone to confirm the plan to let Minard’s killer escape. Hoover told Conrad to make no written report on the tape. Conrad then noted on the memo Hoover’s order and initialed and dated the notation leaving the only record of Hoover’s personal decision to let Minard’s killer get away with murder.

The jury never got hear the killer’s voice and instead accepted the prosecution version of the events convicting the two Panther leaders. Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa were both sentenced to life in prison and are locked up inside the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary where they continue to proclaim their innocence.

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