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Imprisoned Indian activist sues FBI for violating civil rights

The Associated Press
Friday April 05, 2002

WASHINGTON — FBI agents and Director Louis Freeh denied imprisoned American Indian activist Leonard Peltier a fair chance at clemency and parole when they publicly protested against him in 2000, a lawsuit filed Thursday alleged. 

The FBI has said the agents were off-duty at the time and had a constitutional right to protest the possibility of Peltier’s gaining freedom after being convicted in the death of two agents. 

The action, filed in federal court in Washington, charges Freeh and the agents “engaged in a systematic, and officially sanctioned campaign of misinformation and disinformation designed to prevent” Peltier’s clemency request from receiving fair consideration. Freeh retired from the FBI last summer. 

The FBI on Thursday dismissed the allegation, saying employees’ comments are protected free speech. 

“FBI employees, like other federal workers and citizens, have the right to express their views on issues they feel passionate about — in this case the brutal killing of two FBI agents,” Assistant Director John Collingwood said. 

“They were reminding the American public of the consistently upheld murder conviction of Leonard Peltier, and they were doing so on their own time,” he said. 

The suit requests the court to order the agents’ silence on the issue and to pay $1 million in damages. 

“I have a problem with them speaking at all if they are active agents,” Peltier’s lawyer, Bernard V. Kleinman, said Thursday. 

The agents should be ordered not to protest because “there may still be individuals that could still be affected by the case,” Kleinman added. “If that’s the case then I don’t understand why they’re able to speak at all.” 

Just before leaving office, President Clinton considered granting Peltier clemency for his convictions in the 1975 killings of the two FBI agents. 

Ultimately, Clinton denied clemency. Kleinman says that’s because the president may have been swayed by the march of more than 500 FBI agents and families outside the White House. 

Peltier was convicted in the June 26, 1975, murders of agents Ron Williams and Jack Coler on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as they were searching for robbery suspects, according to FBI officials. Both were shot in the head at point-blank range after they were injured. The bodies were left on a dirt road. 

Peltier was charged with taking part in the slayings, but whether he fired the fatal shots was never proved. After fleeing to Canada and being extradited to the United States, he was convicted and sentenced in 1977, despite defense claims that evidence against him had been falsified. 


On the Net: 

Peltier defense: 

Clemency opponents: