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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: San Francisco | Legal Support | Police State and Prisons | Racial Justice
VIDEOS: SF Demands A Civil Rights Investigation For Mumia Abu-Jamal
We have just released new videos from the Nov. 8 event in San Francisco held in solidarity with the Nov. 12 press conference at the Justice Dept in Washington DC that will feature Amnesty International, the NAACP and more. Please help spread the word!
For the latest on the campaign seeking a civil rights investigation for Mumia, and the Nov. 12 press conference, please visit here.
We Demand A Civil Rights Investigation For Mumia Abu-Jamal!
New Videos of Event in San Francisco Expressing Solidarity With the November 12 Washington DC Action for Mumia at the Justice Department
On November 8, 2009, the SF Bay Area Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal organized an event at Centro Del Pueblo in San Francisco. The event focused on three innocent men who may soon be executed soon, depending on upcoming court rulings: Troy Davis, Kevin Cooper, and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Laura Moye, the Director of Amnesty International's Death Penalty Abolition Campaign spoke about Troy Davis, and Moye will also be speaking on behalf of Amnesty International at the Washington DC press conference at the US Justice Department on November 12. Activist Rebecca Doran spoke about Kevin Cooper. Video footage of the presentations by Moye and Doran will be released shortly, so please stay tuned.
Speaking about Mumia Abu-Jamal was Hans Bennett, co-founder of Journalists for Mumia and author of the new pamphlet published by the Mobilization to Free Mumia, entitled “The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal: Innocent Man on Death Row.” The pamphlet features the June 16, 2009 SF Bay View Newspaper article by Bennett, that cites several instances of withheld evidence and argues for a federal civil rights investigation into Mumia’s case. The pamphlet also features the diagrams and ballistics analysis presented in the new Journalists for Mumia flyer explaining why the prosecution scenario used to convict Mumia is ballistically impossible.
Bennett also spoke about the current legal situation, where the US Supreme Court has yet to rule on the DA’s attempt to execute Mumia without having a new sentencing-phase trial where evidence of innocence can be presented, but a jury can only choose between execution or life in prison without parole. On October 13, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments for a separate case that also involves the "Mills" issue, that is central to the Philadelphia DA's appeal. The Court's upcoming ruling on this separate "Spisak" case may impact the DA's appeal. This segment is featured in the second video being released. An official update from Mumia’s legal team has also been released by lead attorney Robert R. Bryan. A recent article by Jeff Mackler also focuses on the seriousness of the current legal situation.
Below are two excerpts from the June 16, 2009 SF Bay View Newspaper article, which give more background on the two instances of withheld evidence that are discussed in the new video: Pedro Polakoff’s crime scene photos and the fact that Arnold Howard’s driver’s license application was in Officer Faulkner’s front shirt pocket.
DA Suppresses Evidence About Kenneth Freeman
In their recent books, Michael Schiffmann (Race Against Death: The Struggle for the Life and Freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal 2006) and J. Patrick O’Connor (The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, 2008) argue that the actual shooter of Officer Faulkner was a man named Kenneth Freeman. Schiffmann and O’Connor argue that Freeman was an occupant of Billy Cook’s car, who shot Faulkner in response to Faulkner having shot Abu-Jamal first, and then fled the scene before police arrived.
Central to Schiffmann and O’Connor’s argument was the presence of a driver’s license application for one Arnold Howard, which was found in the front pocket of Officer Faulkner’s shirt. Abu-Jamal’s defense would not learn about this until 13 years later, because the Police and DA's office had failed to notify them about the application’s crucial location. Journalist Linn Washington argues that this failure was "a critical and deliberate omission," and "a major violation of fair trial rights and procedures. If the appeals process had any semblance of fairness, this misconduct alone should have won a new trial for Abu-Jamal.” More importantly, Washington says "this evidence provides strong proof of a third person at the scene along with Faulkner and Billy Cook. The prosecution case against Abu-Jamal rests on the assertion that Faulkner encountered a lone Cook minutes before Abu-Jamal's arrival on the scene, but Faulkner got that application from somebody other than Cook, who had his own license."
At the 1995 PCRA hearing, Arnold Howard testified that he had loaned his temporary, non-photo license to Kenneth Freeman, who was Billy Cook’s business partner and close friend. Further, Howard stated that police came to his house early in the morning on Dec. 9, 1981, and brought him to the police station for questioning because he was suspected of being “the person who had run away” from the scene, but he was released after producing a 4:00 a.m. receipt from a drugstore across town (which provided an alibi) and telling them that he had loaned the application to Freeman (who Howard reports was also at the police station that morning).
Also pointing to Freeman’s presence in the car with Cook, O’Connor and Schiffmann cite prosecution witness Cynthia White’s testimony at Cook’s separate trial for charges of assaulting Faulkner, where White describes both a “driver” and a “passenger” in Cook’s VW. Also notable, investigative journalist Dave Lindorff’s book (Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, 2003) features an interview with Cook’s lawyer Daniel Alva, in which Alva says that Cook had confided to him within days of the shooting that Freeman had been with him that morning.
Linn Washington argues that "this third person at the crime scene is consistent with eyewitness accounts of the shooter fleeing the scene. Remember that accounts from both prosecution and defense witnesses confirm the existence of a fleeing shooter. Abu-Jamal was arrested at the scene, critically wounded. He did not run away and return in a matter of seconds." Eyewitnesses Robert Chobert, Dessie Hightower, Veronica Jones, Deborah Kordansky, William Singletary, and Marcus Cannon all reported, at various times, that they saw one or more men run away from the scene. O’Connor writes that “some of the eyewitnesses said this man had an Afro and wore a green army jacket. Freeman did have an Afro and he perpetually wore a green army jacket. Freeman was tall and burly, weighing about 225 pounds at the time.” Then there’s eyewitness Robert Harkins, whom prosecutor McGill did not call as a witness. O’Connor postulates that the prosecutor’s decision was because Harkins’ account of a struggle between Faulkner and the shooter that caused Faulkner to fall on his hands and knees before Faulkner was shot “demolished the version of the shooting that the state’s other witnesses rendered at trial.” O’Connor writes further that “Harkins described the shooter as a little taller and heavier than the 6-foot, 200-pound Faulkner,” which excludes the 6’1”, 170-lb Abu-Jamal.
Linn Washington’s 2001 affidavit states that he knew Freeman to be a “close friend of Cook's,” and that “Cook and Freeman were constantly together.” Washington first met Freeman when Freeman reported his experience of police brutality to the Philadelphia Tribune, where Washington worked. Washington says today that "Kenny did not harbor any illusions about police being unquestioned heroes due to his experiences with being beaten a few times by police and police incessantly harassing him for his street vending."
Regarding the police harassment and intimidation of Freeman, which continued after the arrest of Abu-Jamal, Washington adds: "It is significant to note that the night after the Faulkner shooting, the newsstand that Freeman built and operated at 16th and Chestnut Streets in Center City burned to the ground. In news media accounts of this arson, police sources openly boasted to reporters that the arsonist was probably a police officer. Witnesses claimed to see officers fleeing the scene right before the fire was noticed. Needless to say, that arson resulted in no arrests.” Dave Lindorff argues that the police clearly “had their eye on Freeman,” because “only two months after Faulkner’s shooting, Freeman was arrested in his home, where he was found hiding in his attic armed with a .22 caliber pistol, explosives and a supply of ammunition. At that time, he was not charged with anything.” O’Connor and Schiffmann argue that police intimidation ultimately escalated to the point where police themselves murdered Freeman.
The morning of May 14, 1985, Freeman’s body was found: naked, bound, and with a drug needle in his arm. His cause of death was officially declared a “heart attack.” The date of Freeman’s death is significant because the night before his body was found, the police had orchestrated a military-style siege on the MOVE organization’s West Philadelphia home. Police had fired over 10,000 rounds of ammunition in 90 minutes and used a State Police helicopter to drop a C-4 bomb (illegally supplied by the FBI) on MOVE’s roof, which started a fire that destroyed the entire city block. The MOVE Commission later documented that police had shot at MOVE family members when they tried to escape the fire: in all, six adults and five children were killed.
As a local journalist, Abu-Jamal had criticized the city government’s conflicts with MOVE, and after his 1981 arrest, MOVE began to publicly support him. Through this mutual advocacy, which continues today, Abu-Jamal and MOVE’s contentious relationship with the Philadelphia authorities have always been closely linked. Seen in this context, Schiffmann argues that “if Freeman was indeed killed by cops, the killing probably was part of a general vendetta of the Philadelphia cops against their ‘enemies’ and the cops killed him because they knew or suspected he had something to do with the killing of Faulkner.” O’Connor concurs, arguing that “the timing and modus operandi of the abduction and killing alone suggest an extreme act of police vengeance.”
DA Suppresses Pedro Polakoff’s Crime Scene Photos
On December 6, 2008, several hundred protesters gathered outside the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, where Pam Africa, coordinator of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, spoke about the newly discovered crime scene photos taken by press photographer Pedro Polakoff. Africa cited Polakoff’s statements today that he approached the DA’s office with the photos in 1981, 1982, and 1995, but that the DA had completely ignored him. Polakoff states that because he had believed Abu-Jamal was guilty, he had no interest in approaching the defense, and never did. Consequently, neither the 1982 jury nor the defense ever saw Polakoff’s photos. “The DA deliberately kept evidence out,” declared Africa: “someone should be arrested for withholding evidence in a murder trial.”
Four photos can be viewed at Abu-Jamal-News.com, as well as video footage of the Dec.4 press conference addressing the photos and the Dec. 8 slide show presentation of the photos. After a year-long media blackout, the photos have now been spotlighted by The SF Bay View Newspaper, Reuters, NBC's Today Show, National Public Radio, Indymedia.org, Counterpunch, Media Channel, Workers World, and The Philadelphia Weekly, and the new British documentary "In Prison My Whole Life," which features an interview with Pedro Polakoff.
Since May, 2007, www.Abu-Jamal-News.com has displayed four of Polakoff’s photos, making the following points:
Photo 1: Mishandling the Guns - Officer James Forbes holds both Abu-Jamal's and Faulkner's guns in his bare hand and touches the metal parts. This contradicts his later court testimony that he had preserved the ballistics evidence by not touching the metal parts.
Photos 2 & 3: The Moving Hat - Faulkner's hat is moved from the top of Billy Cook's VW, and placed on the sidewalk for the official police photo.
Photo 4: The Missing Taxi – Prosecution witness Robert Chobert testified that he was parked directly behind Faulkner's car, but the space is empty in the photo.
The Missing Divots – In all of Polakoff’s photos of the sidewalk where Faulkner was found, there are no large bullet divots, or destroyed chunks of cement, which should be visible in the pavement if the prosecution scenario was accurate, according to which Abu-Jamal shot down at Faulkner - and allegedly missed several times - while Faulkner was on his back. Also citing the official police photo, Michael Schiffmann writes: "It is thus no question any more whether the scenario presented by the prosecution at Abu-Jamal's trial is true, because it is physically impossible."
Pedro P. Polakoff was a Philadelphia freelance photographer who reports having arrived at the crime scene about 12 minutes after the shooting was first reported on police radio, and at least 10 minutes before the Mobile Crime Detection Unit that handles crime scene forensics and photographs. In Schiffmann’s interview with him, Polakoff recounted that “all the officers present expressed the firm conviction that Abu-Jamal had been the passenger in Billy Cook’s VW and had fired and killed Faulkner by a single shot fired from the passenger seat of the car.” Polakoff bases this on police statements made to him directly, and from his having overheard their conversations. Polakoff states that this early police opinion was apparently the result of their interviews of three other witnesses who were still present at the crime scene: a parking lot attendant, a drug-addicted woman, and another woman. None of those eyewitnesses, however, have appeared in any report presented to the courts by the police or the prosecution.
It is undisputed that Abu-Jamal approached from across the street, and was not the passenger in Billy Cook’s car. Schiffmann argues that Polakoff’s personal account strengthens the argument that the actual shooter was Billy Cook’s passenger Kenneth Freeman, who Schiffmann postulates, fled the scene before police arrived.
For more about the photos, read the 21 FAQs here.