Revolutionary Worker #916, July 20, 1997
On June 26, 1997, a Los Angeles judge threw out all charges against one of The Nickersons 7-- a youth who runs with the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB) and the only one of the 7 who was charged with felonies. The three felonies could have resulted in 13 years in prison and two "strikes" under California's infamous "three strikes" law.
Targeted by the LAPD at the April 20, 1996 demonstration against police brutality in Nickerson Gardens--the young man was beaten and arrested. Police reports claim that his injuries were caused by him "rubbing his (own) face back and forth across the pavement." Then they tried to railroad him. He was charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer and one charge of "resisting" or "obstructing" an executive officer (P.C. 69). This is a deliberately vague charge that has been historically used to persecute and retaliate against participants in mass protests illegally attacked by the police. Bail was originally set at $150,000. As part of his bail restrictions, he was banned from participating in any demonstration in the Nickerson Gardens housing projects.
The June 26 ruling dismissing the case came after his defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss. Getting this case thrown out before it even went to trial was a big victory by the people in the fight to free all The Nickersons 7.
The Nickersons 7 were arrested April 20, 1996 when residents of the Watts housing project of Nickerson Gardens stood up against police brutality. They organized a protest right in the projects. It was less than three weeks after people all over the world saw the videotape of Riverside sheriffs beating Alicia Soltero and Enrique Funes beside a pick-up truck parked on the freeway. The mainly Black and Latino residents of The Nickersons carried signs saying "Alicia Soltero, Rodney King, the Same Thing," "No More Police Brutality," and "Justice." They invited youth from the RCYB to join them.
The cops' response was to go on a rampage. They came dressed in full riot gear and carried out a massive, organized assault on the people. They declared a citywide "tactical alert," as over 100 cops ran through the projects. Police helicopters flew low over the rooftops of houses, brutalizing residents and arresting them on trumped-up charges.
The system continued the attack in the courtroom, where it tried to railroad seven of those arrested--The Nickersons 7--into long jail terms. But although prosecutors used "criminal" charges, the seven were singled out from the beginning for their alleged role in a demonstration against police brutality, and in some cases for their alleged political affiliation. This railroad is the system's attempt to get revenge for the people's actions. They want people, especially those most brutalized by the police, to put up with police brutality. And they want to criminalize people who protest police brutality in the eyes of society. They are attempting to send a message to people: If you dare step forward to fight police brutality, we will throw you in jail.
In addition to the felony case, there are six people charged with up to 20 different misdemeanors. Some are accused of throwing bottles, and arrested for "assault with a deadly weapon" on police officers. One young defendant, arrested only for "failure to disperse," had his bail set at $50,000. Other charges were highly political, like being present at a "riot." New charges were piled on eight months after the demonstration.
The lawyer for the defendant in the felony case said his client was "the victim of a conspiracy by `law enforcement' to intimidate persons believed to be leftist organizers and to intimidate the communities they organize." For the last 14 months, the LAPD has lied and hidden information from the defense that would prove this case.
Those police reports that were released described the cops' action as "demonstration suppression" and "arresting multiple protesters." Others talked about arresting "ringleaders" and "agitators." They also revealed that there have been years of surveillance and police spying on housing projects in South Central and of political organizing going on there. It was noted on the felony defendant's arrest report that a copy was sent to the LAPD's secret political police unit, the Anti-Terrorist Division (ATD). This is not "routine" procedure in a criminal case. The defense team argued that this was evidence of the defendant being singled out politically, and the judge ordered the ATD to release some of its information.
The release of any files from the ATD was a dramatic development, and a sign of how serious the system was about railroading The Nickersons 7. In past years, the LAPD has seen dozens of cases dismissed rather than release files from the ATD. Even though the files were heavily "redacted" (whited out) they show that the ATD has been involved in extensive political surveillance of political activists.
Despite these exposures, prosecutors and police lied to cover up piles of documents, tapes, videos and other evidence that the defense needed to prepare a case. This attempted cover-up led to the felony case being thrown out of court.
The motion to dismiss filed with the court began with a quote from Frederick Douglass, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will." It went on to describe fourteen months of pre-trial hearings: "The history of the discovery proceedings in this case is a story of a struggle for power." The defense attorney argued that the LAPD had consistently lied and hidden documents relevant to the defense's claim that the defendant was being framed for his participation in a demonstration against police brutality. The judge dismissed the case based on the fact that the LAPD had shown insufficient efforts to comply with the court orders to turn over the documents and information to the defense. This was a similar legal point that led to overturning the conviction of Geronimo ji Jaga. As in Geronimo's case, the prosecution and police in the N7 case lied again and again. But many of these lies were exposed through the efforts of the defense team.
The information requested through discovery by the defense was basic. They wanted the names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone arrested and any possible witnesses who were there on April 20, 1996. They wanted copies of videotapes, police communications tapes, computer messages and written notes and reports.
All of this information is necessary to prove that the only "crime" of the Nickersons 7 was protesting police brutality. Through about 20 court appearances, the District Attorney's office admitted that the defense had a right to most of this information. And they said they were willing to turn it over. But both prosecutors and the LAPD investigating officer in this case told the judge that the information just didn't exist or lied about being able to obtain it.
One example of this lying and covering up involves "MDTs", Mobile Digital Terminal communications. These are messages sent to and from the computer terminals that are in every LAPD police car. The existence of such messages became widely known after the beating of Rodney King. MDTs sent by Officer Powell, who went to prison for his part in the beating, contained racist language against Black people, like "gorillas in the mist."
In the case of The Nickersons 7, the LAPD investigating officer first said the defense already had the MDTs, because they were the same as the police audiotapes and computer printouts showing police traffic in and around Nickerson Gardens. Then he said they were too difficult to retrieve, and that they were "just numbers." The judge denied the defense motion to produce MDTs. Then defense lawyers working on the cases of the six defendants charged with misdemeanors got some MDTs from the City Attorney's office, which prosecutes misdemeanor cases. These partial MDTs featured cops who heard of the police attack on the radio calling to the dispatcher, basically begging to go to The Nickersons. The dispatcher later told them to go to the demo and "have fun." They talked about singling out "ringleaders" for arrest. And they contained numerous descriptions of what went on. They were extremely relevant.
The same pattern, of lying until they were caught and then lying some more, was repeated in the case of the TV show "LAPD: Life on the Beat," which featured the police attack on the demonstration. A video was made by a crew of "ride-along" civilians from the TV show. It included footage of the police attack, as well as interviews with the cops afterwards. The LAPD investigating officer said there was no video in the possession of the LAPD, even though it was shown on national TV, and documents indicate the LAPD is highly involved in the making of this show. Someone recorded this show and turned the tape over to the defense. The LAPD had the audacity to request that the defense give a copy to the LAPD. After giving a copy to the LAPD, the investigating officer came back to court and said the LAPD had the video all along. But they still insisted that they did not have the names or addresses of the ride-along film crew that made the tape and were eyewitnesses to the police attack. The prosecution said it is the policy of the LAPD not to know the identities of people from this show who are allowed to ride around in police cars, that they don't do any background checks or rap sheets on such individuals. The judge found this hard to swallow.
Prosecutors also insisted that they had no idea of the identities of one of the people they arrested. This was a cameraman from Channel 5 News in L.A. He was arrested for "interfering" while, according to police reports, filming the arrest and beating of the felony case defendant. The investigating officer first claimed that there was no police report regarding the cameraman's arrest. When the defense team found the report referred to in other documents, and brought to court a copy of the actual report that had been given to the attorneys in the misdemeanor case, the investigating officer admitted the LAPD had the report and turned it over. But they continued to claim they didn't have the cameraman's address. Finally, in March, 11 months after the first request for this information, the investigating officer came into court with the cameraman's name and address.
The hearing on the defense motion to dismiss took one whole day of court time. The D.A. filed no papers, but tried to argue that there was nothing that serious about the trail of lies and cover-up that has gone on for 14 months. In other words, this is the kind of thing that the masses are subjected to day in and day out in the court system, as they are railroaded to prison. The D.A. and the LAPD also offered some lame promises to produce a few more documents.
The main person who argued vigorously against the motion was the representative from the City Attorney's office, Byron Boeckman. Byron Boeckman is the attorney who represents the LAPD and ATD. He sits next to the LAPD Police Chief at Police Commission meetings. He is a policy-maker for the ATD who is attempting to expand the powers of the ATD. This alone is evidence that this was a highly political prosecution. Although he tried desperately to get the hearing postponed, he was over ruled. He went from yelling and screaming at the judge to accusing her of bias against the LAPD investigating officer. He attacked the defense lawyer and whined about how "unfairly" the LAPD was being treated in court! The lies of the prosecution and LAPD were recounted in court throughout the day. At the end of the day the judge dismissed all charges.
On April 20, 1996, the people in Nickerson Gardens stood strong, and the people, the 7 defendants and the legal team have stood strong since. The people, working in an organized, united and unified way have waged this battle in the courtroom and the streets, forcing the system to back down. Under the slogans, "Free The Nickersons 7! It's Right to Fight Police Brutality!" the Nickersons 7 Defense Committee rallied many hundreds of people to support them in different ways. A very successful fundraiser was held in the community, where many people have been following this case. A car caravan on April 29, the anniversary of the L.A. Rebellion, took word of the case all over the city. Thousands of leaflets, buttons and pencils saying "Free The Nickersons 7!" were distributed to get the word out and build support. People sponsored meetings so their friends and associates could hear about the case. There are people from all areas of the city and all walks of life who are refusing to let The Nickersons 7 be railroaded.
The victory in the motion to dismiss the felony case is an important step toward freeing all The Nickersons 7. And it is a victory that has inspired the other defendants and their supporters to step up the fight. The struggle is not over. The D.A. could re-file the charges that were dismissed any time up to April 20, 1999. Or they could appeal the judge's ruling. Support, including financial support and work to get the word out even broader about the case, is still urgently needed. The six defendants still charged with misdemeanors are scheduled to go to trial by the middle of September, even though similar lies regarding police documents have occurred in that case as well. And the police have continued to harass the defendants. One of the misdemeanor defendants, a youth who grew up in housing projects in East L.A., has been arrested twice since the April 20 protest against police brutality. During both arrests he was beaten and threatened by police from both the LAPD and L.A. County Sheriffs but no charges were filed against him. A recent bulletin by The Nickersons 7 Defense Committee said, "The people of Nickerson Gardens are proud of what they did on April 20th and have made a call for others to take this case up. What is at stake in this case is nothing less than whether the people have a right to stand up against police brutality. Together we must shine a light on this outrageous railroad, free The Nickersons 7, and put a stop to police brutality."
Nickersons 7 Defense Committee
c/o Refuse & Resist!
6253 Hollywood Blvd. #910
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Ph. & Fax (313) 962-8084
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