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Request for Federal Investigation in Chattanooga
by JoNina Abron
Monday Jan 22nd, 2001 10:21 PM
Federal, State Probes Sought In Chattanooga 3 Trial Incident
SF IMC Special Coverage

(Chattanooga, Tenn.) --The U.S. Justice Department and Tennessee Attorney General Paul W. Summers will be asked to investigate why Hamilton County sheriff\'s deputies did not arrest a man who Wednesday carried bullets outside the courtroom where three black anti-police brutality activists were on trial.

The inquiries are being sought by JoNina M. Abron, chair of the International Committee to Defend the Chattanooga 3--Lorenzo Komboa Ervin, Damon McGee and Mikail Musa Muhammad (Ralph P. Mitchell). Abron, an associate professor of journalism at Western Michigan University, attended the trial of the three men.

Abron said she will send her request for a federal inquiry to the Color of Law unit of the justice department.

Abron maintains that Sheriff John Cupp and his staff concocted the incident involving the man with bullets to deliberately taint the jurors who heard the cases of Ervin, McGee and Muhammad. The three activists were convicted Thursday of disrupting a Chattanooga City Council meeting on May 19, 1998. Muhammad was also convicted of resisting arrest.

According to Abron, on Wednesday afternoon, the trial judge, Rebecca J. Stern, abruptly called a recess, explaining to the jury that she had just been informed of an emergency. After that, several sheriff\'s deputies, who handle security for the Criminal Courts, ordered everyone to leave the courtroom, Abron said.

Shortly later, when she returned to the hallway outside the courtroom, Abron said deputies told observers that they would have belongings and bodies searched before they could re-enter the courtroom. This procedure was followed for the duration of the trial, Abron said.

McGee said a deputy showed him a bag of hollow-point bullets and told him that a man who wanted to enter the courtroom allegedly turned over to him and another deputy several rounds of ammunition that the man was carrying. The man, who was not immediately identified, was armed with a gun.

According to McGee, deputies told the man, who is black, to leave the Criminal Court Building, but did not arrest him. Ervin said that as the man left the third floor of the building, he angrily screamed that he was going to come back \"with some people from bin Laden.\" Osmara bin Laden is suspected of plotting the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa in 1999.

State law makes it a crime to bring a firearm into a courtroom, with a possible sentence of up to seven years.

Stern\'s courtroom is across the hall from the office of the county\'s district attorney, William Cox.

\"How can a man who brings bullets into a building full of judges, district attorneys and sheriff\'s deputies--the very people who run the law enforcement system--walk away without being arrested?\" Abron said.

\"This was a carefully orchestrated, premeditated provocation concocted by Cupp, with the assistance of Stern and Cox, to influence the jury to believe that Lorenzo, Damon and Mikail are terrorists,\" she charged.

Abron said that in interviews with the media after the incident, Cup appealed for funds to buy metal detectors for the courtrooms.

The incident was reported in the local media on Wednesday evening and on Thursday morning when the trial resumed, Abron said. Defense attorneys William Dobsen, Mike Little and John Cavett asked Stern for a mistrial, arguing that the publicity may have tainted the jury against their clients.

Stern refused to grant a mistrial, but allowed defense attorneys to question each juror about their knowledge of the incident. Three jurors admitted discussing the matter in the jury room on Thursday morning and speculated as to whether Ervin, McGee and Muhammad had anything to do with it.

Stern granted a defense motion to dismiss the three jurors before they began deliberating. Ervin, McGee and Muhammad agreed to a jury of 10, instead of the customary 12 people. The jury of three blacks and seven whites reached their guilty verdicts in less than an hour, Abron said.

\"I believe the jurors had their minds made up when they walked into the jury room,\" Abron said. \"Lorenzo, Damon and Mikail never had a chance to receive a fair trial. They were convicted by a kangaroo court.\"

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