The RW Interview
Round Valley Warrior
Revolutionary Worker #1030, November 14, 1999
On April 23, 1999, a judge threw out the last charges against Eugene "Bear" Lincoln, a Native American from the Round Valley Reservation in Mendocino County in Northern California. The charges against Bear stemmed from an incident on April 14, 1995. Bear and his friend, Leonard "Acorn" Peters, were ambushed by Mendocino County Sheriffs. The sheriffs murdered Acorn in cold blood. One deputy was killed, most likely by "friendly fire," as the cops fired automatic weapons wildly on the unlit dirt road. After murdering Acorn the police chased Bear and tried to kill him. When Bear escaped, the authorities launched a huge manhunt. Cops from all over the state flooded onto the reservation and terrorized residents, raiding homes and holding guns to the heads of small children. Governor Wilson offered a $100,000 reward for Bear's capture and bounty hunters on horses and dirt bikes roamed the reservation trying to kill Bear.
After eluding the manhunt for three months Bear turned himself in to challenge the actions of law enforcement, especially Acorn's murder. Bear was charged with the murder of the deputy and also with the death of his friend, even though there was no doubt that the sheriff's bullets killed Acorn. Bear faced the death penalty.
A broad coalition came forward to defend Bear. There were many demonstrations and people packed the courtroom every day during Bear's trial. On September 23, 1997, a jury found Bear NOT GUILTY of the murder charges and voted 10-2 to acquit him of all charges. Despite the overwhelming vote by the jury, the DA announced that Bear would have to stand trial on the lesser but still very serious manslaughter charges. The people kept up the fight and the state was forced to admit they had no evidence and to dismiss the remaining charges against Bear.
The RW spoke with Bear Lincoln during a "Reunion for Justice" on September 11 and 12 on the Round Valley Reservation. People had gathered both to celebrate Bear's victory and also to talk about how to carry the struggle forward.
RW: First, on behalf of the RW, I want to congratulate you on your victory. I think that this is very important not just for you, but also for all people fighting for justice. I think that it's something that many people can draw strength from--seeing that we can fight back and defeat their railroad and force them to drop the charges.
Bear: Yeah, it was a hard struggle. There was nothing easy about it all along the way. During the first 26 months or 30 months I had to turn myself in, go to county jail, go through the legal process, the jury trial, facing the death penalty. It was something that I knew I'd have to gather strength for. It was a real battle and we won, not just me but all the people. It was against corrupt law enforcement--people in power, people with a lot of power, people with a license to kill. We stood up to them and beat them in their own courts of law. I never claimed those courts as mine. One thing that I learned in my trial is that the courtroom isn't a place where you can seek truth and justice. It's just a place to do battle. The prosecution doesn't want to give me--or anyone else--a fair trial. They just want to win.
RW: One of the outrageous things during your trial was the gag order--you were prevented from talking about your case to the press--even to proclaim your innocence. Now that there isn't a gag order is there anything that you would like to say about the case?
Bear: Actually, the legal standpoint right now is that the state can take me back to trial for manslaughter if they think they can convince a jury, if they get some kind of evidence that they think will convince a jury. They are keeping all of the physical evidence in the case for a year. I speak about it anyway, but I'm careful of what I say. During the trial only about one-third of the story really came out, so there's a lot that hasn't been told.
I should never have spent one day in jail even though I fired back at the police in self-defense. That night the way everything was going, that was pure survival. It was a complete ambush. One thing that wasn't brought out that much in the trial or in the papers is that I was wearing a hat. It was a cowboy-style hat, but it had an Indian beaded headband and it had some Indian feathers on it. At the same time that Acorn was shot down a bullet went right through my hat. That's how close it all was. They opened up and just started spraying with M-16 gunfire--automatic weapons. You could say we both received headshots. Acorn was shot in the face and I was shot in the hat. That hat is still in evidence. When Acorn was shot down there was about 100 police rounds. They opened up with automatic weapons. I heard a couple of shotgun blasts and some semiautomatic shots. Then, after the first barrage, there was a short time lapse and there was about 200 rounds fired after that. And they have the nerve to say that we ambushed them.
RW: After the Attorney General announced that they were not going to file the manslaughter charges you said that while you were free you didn't feel completely free. Could you talk about what you meant by that?
Bear: Yeah. I was found not guilty of all the serious murder charges and the manslaughter charges were dropped but to me that was just a formality. We were playing their game. It was their courts, their laws. I submitted myself for almost three years to do it their way, to satisfy them. I wasn't satisfied. My supporters weren't satisfied. Acorn's children weren't satisfied. Sure they found me not guilty, but where is the justice for us? We didn't get justice. They didn't have to answer for murdering Acorn, an innocent man.
As for being completely free. With law enforcement around I'll never be completely free. They can drive by with their guns and their dogs and look at me like something is wrong with me.
RW: Could you tell me a little more about Acorn, what was he like?
Bear: Acorn was a real respectful person. The elders that raised him taught him and his brothers to have respect for elders and for family. He was a real good-natured person. He was easy to get along with, real mellow, mild mannered, a real likable guy. He lived in the hills here on the reservation. He built his own two-story cabin. He had a few children living with him. He lived with Cyndi Pickett. He had a pretty good life. He was happy.
He was killed on April 14, 1995. He was an innocent victim killed by law enforcement. They set an ambush on the reservation to kill an Indian suspect, Acorn's brother [Arlyis Peters]. And they did just what they set out to do, except they killed Acorn.
Acorn came to me that morning and he spoke of a dream that he had. He said that he dreamed that he and I had gotten shot. The dream really disturbed him, like it would anybody. And I told him that it wouldn't happen. I tried to talk him out of it. And later that night it did happen--he was shot and killed. That's part of the spiritual side of this whole ordeal.
RW: One of the things that the Lincoln-Peters Defense Alliance brought up during the case was that your case is typical of the way that law enforcement deals with Native people on reservations. Do you have anything to say about this?
Bear: Yeah, I agree with it. They had a golden opportunity to come in here and kill some Indians. [When they were looking for me] it was a manhunt and law enforcement came from all over the country to hunt down an Indian and to kill an Indian.
But before Officer Davis was even killed, my personal opinion is that his plan was to set up an ambush and kill Arlyis Peters and other Indians that were with Arlyis and that then he wanted to run for Sheriff in the next election. He was a Vietnam veteran. He did three tours in Vietnam. He was a Navy Seal. He was involved in a few invasions. I think Beirut and Grenada. He was a professional killer. When he got out of the military he joined the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department and they sent him right to the reservation here in Round Valley. People who knew him said that he still had the military mindset.
RW: Can you talk some about the brutality of law enforcement on the reservation in rural Mendocino.
Bear: Well, law enforcement is definitely a problem. They're racist. They're very disrespectful of all races and even of poor whites. It's like that in L.A. and New York and in the big cities and it's like that on the reservation up here in the mountains. It's something we have to address. We have to unify and be strong because we'll all be fighting them one day. We are fighting them right now, except we're scattered about and they attack us when they get us alone. They're a large group; they're basically a gang. People understand gangs these days in the '90s. The United States government is a gang. They're just the biggest gang and the gang that's in power--at least for now. The people need to unify and be stronger--fight together and stand together.
RW: While you were in jail you wrote some powerful statements that were very moving. In one of your statements you wrote that many people were in jail just because they were poor or Native American, or Black or Latino.
Bear: Or addicted to drugs. There was a lot of injustice going on just in a small county jail. People getting in and getting railroaded by the courts just because they can get away with it. Many people are overcharged. That's a common thing that happens in Mendocino County, and other counties, I'm sure. People are overcharged so they'll plead out to a lesser charge. There are a lot of common people going through who should never be there.
RW: What are some other experiences during your two years in jail? I heard that there were some incidents where the sheriffs tried to set you up.
Bear: They tried to get the white inmates to gang up on all the Native American inmates after the Native American population decreased a bit. And the way that we found out about this is that a few of the white inmates were called out of the tank and the officers in charge said, "Why don't you get them now? There are only a few of them now. They act like they run things in there. They take control of the TV and this and that and why don't you guys do something about it?" But the white inmates came back into the tank and told us about it, because we got along, pretty much, the best that you can in jail. But the guards tried to incite the white inmates to attack the Native American inmates, particularly me. But almost everybody inside supported my case.
At least two times they put people in my cell hoping that they would attack me. They brought this one big guy in, kind of a Hells Angels-type. He was a heroin addict. He told me that the police sent him in here because they want us to get into a fight. He said that the arresting officers said, "Put him in with Lincoln--he doesn't like Indians." But he told me that he didn't say anything like that. It didn't work. But that's the kind of things that they'd try.
They had a recording of a conversation that I had--that one officer was sneaking around and took. But it was real low and they couldn't make it out. They sent it to the FBI to try and enhance the voices. There were just so many things. Like I said, it was fortunate that the spotlight was on me, otherwise I would have been beaten for a confession.
RW: Many people were worried when they heard that you were being tried by an all white jury. And we were pleasantly surprised when the jury voted not guilty on the murder charges against you and voted 10-2 for acquittal on all the other charges. And then many of the jurors actually became activists on your behalf. Could you talk about the jurors and the role that they played?
Bear: I was really impressed by the jury. Especially after the verdict they would come and speak out on my behalf. We had jury forums and the jurors would go with me to different cities and speak out. When the jurors speak everything they say is really powerful, because they were the next thing to being witnesses. They heard what came out in court, that's about it. But they were outraged by what the police did. The police lies, the police misconduct, police murder, the ambush. One of the jurors even used the words "police frenzy"--they all went crazy. They called it a "war zone." They saw very clearly what the situation was about.
I also want to mention the defense team, Tony Serra, Diana Samuelson, and Phil DeJong. They did a really great job. I trusted them and we developed a good relationship. I consider them family. I really love them. They got in there and helped save my life.
RW: Could you speak about the support outside the courtroom?
Bear: Yeah, the spotlight that people shined on the situation really helped. It helped me from being beaten to death the moment that I turned myself in. If I didn't have the spotlight and the media attention and all the support from people in the county and everything else, once I turned myself in and was in their hands they could have beat me to death and said anything that they wanted--any excuse. But with all the attention and support I had a chance and I took it.
RW: The movement that developed around your case has also strengthened the people's struggle all around. Like last year when the cops murdered Marvin Noble, a mentally ill African American man in Ukiah...
Bear: Yeah, that was very sad. It was outrageous what the police did. They gunned down a man sitting down at a hamburger stand having a lemonade because he didn't take his medication. It was insane, the whole thing.
RW: One of the things that was important in your case is that different forces that the government counts on keeping separate were able to unite.
Bear: One of the benefits that came out of a tragedy like this is that a lot of very good people came together to support me in this case. I've met a lot of them since I've been released and we're still gathering, like today. I've really enjoyed meeting all these supporters and it means a lot to me. To stand up against this corrupt power is awesome. It's even more so if you're alone. But to have people support you and agree with you and be behind you, you can get strength from that.
RW: Since you've been released you've spoken out for political prisoners like Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and you also spoke at the third National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality on October 22, 1998. Why do you feel these causes are important?
Bear: I believe what is being said in these cases, Mumia's case, Leonard Peltier's case, and others. These people have been railroaded. They shouldn't be locked up. I was there. I was facing the death penalty. That's as bad as it gets. The state wanted to execute me and I've done nothing wrong. That's what's happening in these other cases.
People spoke out and helped me so I feel like I'm giving back by helping out in other cases and showing support when I can for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier and all the cases of police killing. In New York the killing of Amadou Diallo, that was a tragedy, we can't forget that, we can't let that die down. Tyisha Miller in Riverside. These shootings happen and I read about them and it touches me each time because I was involved in a police shooting and I know what police do.
RW: You recently attended a conference for Leonard Peltier. What happened there?
Bear: In the last part of June I was invited to the Leonard Peltier strategy conference in Lawrence, Kansas. It was real good. There were workshops on different strategies. The main thing that came out of that conference was that there is going to be an event for Leonard the whole month of November in Washington, DC. There's going to be a camp out. There's going to be 25 teepees because we have to have a permit and that's all we can have. We're going to camp out and we're inviting as many people as we can. We want worldwide media attention. There's going to be other strategies to lobby different politicians at that same time. There will be people fasting in front of the White House the whole month of November. A lot of people and groups have committed to come and show their support for Leonard in November. Some of us have started a Leonard Peltier support group in Mendocino County. We want to get a couple of buses to take people to Washington, DC in November. It was a real good conference. I was inspired and encouraged and I think everyone else was too. And I think Leonard also was. It was spiritual. It was really uplifting .
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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