By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
"It's the same secret procedures, the same violations of our human and constitutional rights" as during their Panther years, Jones said.
Amid the fallout from 9/11, the Patriot Act loosened the definition of terrorism as the Department of Homeland Security sought to tighten the nation's safety measures. John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, herded the resources of federal law enforcement agencies to fight the war on terror. He stayed quieter about seeking to corral San Francisco's terrorists of yore, the radical activists of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights era.
In 2002, while reheating the Ingleside probe, federal and state authorities pulled another file out of deep freeze. In February 1970, 18 months before Sgt. Young's murder, a bomb exploded at the Park Police Station, killing one officer and injuring nine. Then as now, authorities suspected the Weather Underground of carrying out the plot, and in 2003, federal prosecutors convened a grand jury.
Both the Ingleside and Park station cases raised questions from legal observers about what, if any, new evidence authorities unearthed to justify impaneling a grand jury. Few answers have surfaced in either probe. Part of the problem derives from the unwillingness of authorities to grant full immunity to witnesses in exchange for testimony. In the case of the ex-Panthers called before the grand jury, prosecutors sought to reserve the right to indict them in particular circumstances.
"That isn't immunity," says defense attorney Richard Mazer, who represents Brown. "That's a ploy."
Meanwhile, the vast scope of the grand jury questions posed to the former Panthers resemble the net-casting approach of the House Un-American Activities Committee, with witnesses asked if they've ever known any of dozens of people. According to court records, other queries were so broad as to be round: "Between 1969 and 1973, had you heard of a group or organization or entity known as the Black Liberation Army?"
"At this point," says defense lawyer John Philipsborn, who represents Jones, "it appears [authorities] are on a fishing expedition."
The serving of DNA warrants on more than 20 people this summer may or may not portend a new lead in the case authorities aren't talking. The FBI agent handling the Young murder probe, Joseph Engler, declined to comment, while a U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman, citing agency policy, refused to deny or confirm the existence of an investigation. David Druliner, a state deputy attorney general who oversaw the two grand juries convened last year, also declined to comment.
But three law enforcement sources who spoke on condition of anonymity offer one possible reason for the case staying afloat. Speculation has persisted since the time of Young's death that the FBI had surveillance on those involved in the Ingleside attack and failed to avert the tragedy. Thirty-five years later, the story goes, the agency wants to atone for that lapse.
The theory's veracity aside, ex-Panthers argue that the FBI stood as the leading terrorism organization of its day. Under J. Edgar Hoover, who once declared the Panthers "the greatest threat to internal security of the country," the agency launched COINTELPRO, a counterintelligence program aimed at infiltrating and imploding radical groups.
A 1976 Senate investigation into COINTELPRO uncovered a spy agency gone wild. Some two to three dozen assassinations of Black Panther members, including the slaying of Chicago chapter leader Fred Hampton, traced back to covert FBI activities. Wrongful convictions piled up like cordwood: Geronimo Pratt, Ernest Graham, Robert Wilkerson. (Last week, a Louisiana state court official announced that a 1972 murder conviction of a former Panther should be set aside, owing to tainted testimony from several witnesses.)
The grand jury investigations in the Ingleside case smack of COINTELPRO revisited, says former Panther Kathleen Cleaver, a visiting lecturer at Emory University in Atlanta. "This is not law enforcement," says Cleaver, whose late ex-husband, Eldridge, served as the party's minister of information. "It's an attempt to harass those who had the audacity to join the revolution."
Those in law enforcement counter that trying to nail Young's killer and accomplices resembles efforts to convict Byron de la Beckwith 30 years after he killed civil rights worker Medgar Evers in Mississippi. (Beckwith, sentenced to life in prison in 1994, died seven years later.) "This has nothing to do with reliving or destroying the revolution," one source says. "This has to do with a cop being killed and trying to figure out who did it."
In the same respect, after so many years, old grievances harden, and skeptics of the Young probe doubt authorities will persuade anyone to share details about a murder in 1971. "It's a 35-year-old case," says another law enforcement source, "and these are not the kind of people who are going to find religion and confess. If you think otherwise, you're living a pipe dream."
Birney Jarvis covered Young's murder for the Examiner. The retired reporter considered the soft-spoken sergeant a friend, and when the two occasionally got together for drinks, Young voiced concerns about the antics of radicals and cops alike. "He had a sense that there wasn't enough understanding on either side," Jarvis says. "He didn't think stockpiling guns or cracking skulls would solve a whole lot of problems."
Geraldine Young, John's widow, moved to Sonoma after her husband died, leaving behind the city where she lost him. Those who know her say she dislikes visits she receives from prosecutors and investigators to discuss the case. Now in her 80s and residing in an assisted-living facility, she quietly turned down SF Weekly'srequest to talk about her late husband.