"A real victory for law enforcement": 8 accused of officer’s assassination arrested after 35-yrs.
By Jaxon Van Derbeken, Marisa Lagos, Chronicle Staff Writers
The arrest and charging of a group of former black militants Tuesday for the 1971 slaying of a San Francisco police sergeant ends decades of frustration for investigators who say the men were soldiers in a five-year war on law enforcement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The accused -- all reputed former members of the radical militant group known as the Black Liberation Army -- carried out a "terror and chaos" campaign aimed at "assassinating law enforcement officers" that began in 1968 and ended in 1973, Deputy Police Chief Morris Tabak said.
Tabak said one of the casualties was Sgt. John Young, slain on Aug. 29, 1971, whose killing was the focus of the arrests and the charges Tuesday. He was killed when at least three men burst into Ingleside police station and one fired a shotgun through an opening in a bulletproof glass window.
"After three decades, it's a real victory for law enforcement that these folks will finally have to answer for their actions," Tabak said in announcing charges against nine men, eight of whom are in custody.
Authorities arrested two San Francisco men, Richard Brown, 65, a community activist, and Richard O'Neal, 57, who worked as a custodian at San Francisco's City Hall.
Also arrested were Francisco "Cisco" Torres, 58, in Queens, N.Y., Ray Boudreaux, 64, an electrician for Los Angeles County from Altadena, Henry Watson Jones, 71, also of Altadena, and Harold Taylor, 58, of Panama City, Fla.
Two other men charged in the case already are incarcerated in New York. Herman Bell, 59, and Anthony Bottom, 55, were convicted of the May 21, 1971, killings of two police officers in New York.
One man who was still being sought is Ronald Stanley Bridgeforth, 62. Authorities believe he might have fled the country.
Eight of the men were charged with murder in the slaying of Young and conspiracy to commit murder for a string of attacks on other officers. O'Neal faces only a broader conspiracy to murder police officers charge for his role in a Feb. 6, 1971, non-fatal shotgun attack on a San Francisco police patrol special officer outside a Grove Street convalescent hospital.
The actions Tuesday -- carried out in cooperation with local, state and federal officials -- follow by two years a grand jury investigation of the Young killing that resulted in no arrests or indictments.
Lawyers for defendants contended that investigators haven't found new evidence since then that justifies bringing charges at this time.
"I don't think they have anything new," said San Francisco attorney Stuart Hanlon, who represents Bell. "I don't think they have a case."
A spokesman for new state Attorney General Jerry Brown acknowledged Tuesday that no new scientific evidence had been unearthed in an investigation made difficult by the lack of solid eyewitness testimony tying the defendants to Young's shooting.
Only two other people were in the Ingleside police station at the time of the attack -- Ellen Lipney, a civilian clerk who also was shot but survived, and Officer Jim Nance. Nance did not see the shooting, and Lipney and he provided only a limited description of an assailants.
The station was largely empty because the rest of the officers were responding to a bombing at the Bank of America in Stonestown, which investigators later said was a diversion from the assault on the station.
"We don't have O.J.'s bloody gloves," attorney general's spokesman Nathan Barankin said Tuesday. "This is not going to be an easy prosecution, but we are committed to seeing it through."
The charges identify Torres, Bell and Jones as the men who entered the Ingleside police station.
Bell was armed with the shotgun and he opened fire, killing Young and wounding Lipney, according to the charges. Jones fired several rounds from a high-powered rifle, trying to get into the station's assembly room, according to the charges. Three other men, the late John Bowman, Brown and Taylor, acted as lookouts, according to the charges.
A letter signed by the Black Liberation Army was sent to The Chronicle on Aug. 31, 1971, claiming responsibility for the killing.
Young's slaying occurred in the midst of the most deadly period for San Francisco police officers in the department's history. Seven officers were killed in the line of duty in 1970 and 1971 -- more than in any other two-year period. Five officers were killed by gunfire, one by a bomb and one in a helicopter crash.
According to the allegations, the Black Liberation Army made several attacks on police in San Francisco and outside the city.
The campaign began with the attack on two San Francisco Housing Authority officers on Oct. 21, 1968, according to the charges. Three men, including Brown, fired at the officers as many as seven times, the charges say. The officers fired back and fled. Brown was found lying on the sidewalk with a .45-caliber handgun in his hand at the time.
The following month, three members of the group -- Bridgeforth, Boudreaux and Jones -- allegedly attacked a group of South San Francisco police officers as they attempted to arrest them for trying to use a stolen credit card.
All three men were arrested at the time, and weapons and explosives were found in their car.
On Oct. 22, 1970, Bottom and another man allegedly bombed a police officer's funeral at St. Brendan Church in San Francisco, according to the charges.
Just before the start of the funeral for the officer, Harold Hamilton, who had been slain in a gunbattle with a bank robbery suspect, a bomb exploded in the crowded church, but no one was seriously hurt.
Bottom, Torres and Bell also were named in the charges as being involved in a March 30, 1971, attempted bombing of SFPD's Mission Station. The bomb, set on the roof of the station, had the power of 30 pounds of dynamite. Bottom, according to the charges, admitted that, with the help of Torres, he put the bomb on the roof while two other members of the group drove off.
The same group orchestrated the murder of New York City police officers Waverly Jones and Joseph Piagentini, on May 21, 1971, according to the allegations. Bottom, now serving time in New York for the killings, was arrested in San Francisco after the New York slayings while in possession of Jones' service revolver. He was caught fleeing after getting into a shootout with San Francisco police Sgt. George Kowalksi on Aug. 28, 1971. Police found a cache of arms in his vehicle, including Jones' gun, which had been used to shoot Piagentini.
According to authorities, the group robbed at least three banks to pay for its efforts, raising at least $25,000 to finance the war.
Authorities believe a separate radical group committed an earlier incident, the Feb. 16, 1970, attack in which a bomb was planted at SFPD's Park police station. Sgt. Brian McDonnell, 44, was killed in that attack, and eight other officers were injured.
One man arrested Tuesday has long been linked to the Young case, having been arrested after the slaying only to be released. The outcome of the early arrest highlights the troublesome history of the case.
Two years after the Young killing, Taylor was arrested in New Orleans, along with two other men, Bowman, who recently died, and Ruben Scott, who is not currently charged.
All three allegedly were tortured into making what they later claimed were false confessions.
In 1975, the three men were charged with murder in the Young attack. But a court found that when the two San Francisco police investigators who came to Louisiana to interview the three men were out of the room, New Orleans officers stripped the men, blindfolded them, beat them and covered them in blankets soaked in boiling water. They also used electric prods on their genitals, court records show. The men were freed after a court found their rights had been violated and they were not allowed to have counsel.
In 1999, the case was reopened after police say they obtained unspecified new physical evidence in one of the attacks on police. A state grand jury heard evidence in the Young slaying. Several members of the group who were subpoenaed refused to testify, some of them jailed until they were freed by court order. No one was indicted.
In 2005, after consulting with San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, police took the case to the state attorney general's office. Harris' office said Tuesday that it was determined that the matter would be best handled by the state prosecutors, who were already familiar with the case.
One of those arrested in San Francisco, Brown, is a longtime activist in the Western Addition and had been a job counselor at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center until he was recently laid off.
"He has been involved trying to make things better in this community," said the Rev. Amos Brown, who has known the accused for more than 30 years. "I don't know what to make of it, after all this time."
Richard Brown's attorney, Richard Mazer, said Tuesday that he had represented him when Brown was summoned to the grand jury in 2005. He was briefly jailed when he refused to testify, but no charges were filed.
"They have been pursuing Mr. Brown and others in this case for decades," Mazer said. "We don't know what new information, if any new information, they have."
O'Neal, who was arrested at his home on McAllister Street, near City Hall, and charged with one count of conspiracy to murder police officers, worked as a custodian for the city. He had previously worked at the city's Hall of Justice, where the case for years frustrated law enforcement.
O'Neal's attorney, Jim Bustamante, said Tuesday that his client was just 18 or 19 at the time of the alleged conspiracy and has been a city employee for more than 25 years.
"I'm not aware of anything they've got that is new," said Bustamante, referring to the time that has transpired since the grand jury investigation in 2005.
Hanlon, the lawyer representing Bell, agreed and suggested justice would best be served by dropping the case against his client.
"If they have a case, we'll deal with it. But I'm afraid that this is just more vindictiveness against the Black Panthers and other groups who were active in the '60s and '70s," he said.
The Black Liberation Army, to which the men arrested and charged Tuesday belonged, was an offshoot of the Black Panthers. Boudreaux's attorney, Michael Burt, said Tuesday that his client spent 23 days in jail for refusing to speak to the grand jury in 2005.
Burt said Boudreaux's only involvement in the Black Panther movement was to work in a school lunch program in Oakland. He served in the military in the Air Force in Vietnam, Burt said.
"My guy is not a member of any conspiracy, he didn't murder anybody -- this is part of a long-standing vendetta by law enforcement," Burt said. "He is innocent of these charges."
Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle
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