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Former Black Panther Details Brutal Police Torture to Extract Confession in 1971 Murder Case

StoryNovember 30, 2007
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Two Nobel Peace Prize laureates are calling for all charges to be dropped against eight former Black Panthers arrested earlier this year for allegedly killing a San Francisco police officer over 35 years ago. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire said the charges against the San Francisco Eight should be dropped, because the case is based in part on statements made under torture. Harold Taylor, one of the co-defendants, gives a detailed and powerful account of the abuse he endured while in police custody. We also speak with Ray Boudreaux, another of the San Francisco Eight, as well as their attorney. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryJan 26, 2007Murder Charges Against Former Black Panthers Based on Confessions Extracted by Torture
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire are calling for all charges to be dropped against eight former Black Panthers arrested earlier this year for allegedly killing a San Francisco police officer over thirty-five years ago.

In a statement being released today, Archbishop Tutu and Maguire said the charges against the San Francisco Eight should be dropped because the case is based in part on statements made under torture. They also criticized the FBI’s COINTELPRO operations, which targeted the Black Panther Party.

Ten months ago, police arrested and detained six former Black Panthers or supporters: Richard Brown, Richard O’Neal, Ray Boudreaux, Henry Jones, Francisco Torres and Harold Taylor. Two men already in jail — Herman Bell and Jalil Muntaqim — were also charged. The men were charged with the murder of Sergeant John Young in 1971 and conspiracy to commit murder for a string of attacks on other officers.

AMY GOODMAN: Harold Taylor and two other men were first charged with the murder of the police sergeant in 1975, but a judge tossed out the charges. Taylor and his two co-defendants said they made false confessions after police in New Orleans tortured them.

Harold Turner and Ray Boudreaux join us now in our firehouse studio. Both were released on bail in September. We’re also joined by Soffiyah Elijah. She is an attorney for the San Francisco Eight and deputy director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Soffiyah, let’s begin with you. The latest in this case?

SOFFIYAH ELIJAH: Certainly, the most victorious piece of news is that we were able to get the men released on bail in September. The bail reduction was very significant, particularly in light of the charges. Bell, on December 3rd, this coming Monday, there will be a hearing in court to discuss several issues, including discovery issues, because the government has still failed to turn over all of the relevant discovery in the case. And another piece of news is that the appellate court in California has decided to hear the issue of the admissibility of the tortured confessions taken from Mr. Taylor back in 1973.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us, Harold Taylor, what happened. What are you saying happened in 1973?

HAROLD TAYLOR: Well, in 1973 in New Orleans, myself and John Bowman and Ruben Scott was arrested in New Orleans by the police department. We were taken from the place where they are arrested us and took us to the jail. And immediately, when we got in the jail, they started beating us. They never asked us any questions in the beginning. They just started beating us.

They had already had Ruben — they had arrested Ruben earlier that day, before they arrested me and John Bowman. And they put me a room with Ruben Scott when they first got me there, and he had been there a couple hours. Well, he was laying on the floor in a fetus position, where — and he had urine on him, feces, and his face was scratched up, and he was swollen, and he was trembling.

And I asked him, I said, “Ruben, what’s going on?” He says nothing. He doesn’t say anything. He’s just shaking. And then, immediately, the door opens up, and the police pulled me out, and they tell me, said, “If you don’t cooperate, this is what you’re going to get.” They made me take off my clothes, chained me to a chair by my ankles to the bottom of the chair and my wrists to the sides of it, and I just had on my shorts. And at that point, they started beating me.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, let me ask you, at this point, they hadn’t told you anything about why they had arrested you or what you were charged with or anything?

HAROLD TAYLOR: They never said anything. They never even charged me with anything.

So they were beating me and asking me questions. And when they started asking me questions, they started telling me about what I was supposed to have done, that if I didn’t cooperate and tell them what happened, they were going to continue to do it. So they put plastic bags over my head and held me back while five or six police officers stood around me, hitting me and kicking at me. They were like kicking each other trying to get their licks in. They were hitting each other trying to hit me. And all I could do was sit there and just try to brace myself and anticipate blows coming. And then they’d take the bag and put it back over my head, and they’d wait ’til I’d just about pass out, and they’d snatch it off.

And at that point, one was standing — would stand behind me, and he would take the palms of his hands, and he’d slap my ears, and my ears would just be ringing. He did that a number of times, and fluid began to run down the side of my face, and I couldn’t hear anything. It was just ringing.

And at that point, they dragged me to another room, and then they take me out of the chair, and they had the chains on my ankles, and they would drag me through like a gauntlet of police on both sides, and they were like kicking me and calling me names. And they continued that and put me in another room, and then I could hear John Bowman and I could hear Ruben Scott, and they were hollering. They were doing basically the same thing to them that they were doing to me. This went on for — you lose conception of time, but it seems like it was forever. And they continued this and continued this.

And then, they said that they wanted to talk to me. They gave me a break. They wouldn’t give me water or anything like that. They leave me alone for maybe five to ten minutes, and then they come back, and then they start asking me questions about the Black Panther Party, about police murders in different parts of the country. I tell them I don’t understand what they’re talking about. I didn’t know. So they resume back to asking me questions concerning, well, what was I doing in New Orleans. And every time I got ready to try to explain why I was in New Orleans, they would continue to beat me, and I couldn’t get anything out, say anything.

And then I — this happened all day that Saturday. This is — I think it was a Saturday. Sometimes I want to say it’s Friday, but I lost track of time. And it happened so consistently that when I finally got a break, it would seem like it was about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and they’d change shifts, and the new shift of police officers would come in, and they would start questioning me, and they would start beating me. New York Police Department came that early —-

AMY GOODMAN: To New Orleans?

HAROLD TAYLOR: To New Orleans, that early that morning was New York police. And they were asking about Herman Bell, did I know where Herman Bell was. I told them I didn’t know where Herman Bell was, and I didn’t know anything about what they were talking about. So it’s murders in New York.

Well, after that, they told me that Ruben Scott has implicated me in situations and that if I didn’t cooperate, that I was going to get more of the same. And I said I don’t know anything Ruben was talking about. But they continued to beat him.

Then San Francisco came, San Francisco Police Department, they came in. And they took me in a room, and he says, “Mr. Taylor,” he says, “we want to talk to you about San Francisco.” I told him I had no idea what they were talking about. So they says, “You know what? This is not California. This is a whole different show here.” And I kept trying to tell them I didn’t know. I said, “Could I use the phone? You know, can I call a lawyer or something?” They told me, he says, “You’re not gonna talk to a lawyer here.” And then he said, “Look, if you don’t cooperate, I just have to open that door, and you know what’s on the other side of that door.” I kept telling them I don’t know what they’re talking about.

So the door flies open, four or five run in there, they start beating me and kicking me. And they just take me out of the room and just drag me down the hallway and take me and slam me back in a chair, chain me back up to the chair and start all over again with the plastic bag, the ear slapping, the slapjacks across the back of my shoulders, all down my legs and on my shins, between my knees. It was so painful that all you could do was try to scream, you know. And they says, “You’re going to talk, or we’re going to continue. This will go on as long as it takes for you to talk.” And I kept telling them the same thing. So later -— they did that all day. It went in shifts.

And every time they took me back into the room with Erdelatz and McCoy — those were the two detectives from San Francisco — Erdelatz would say, like he’s there to — no, McCoy would act like he’s there to help me, and Erdelatz would stand there and browbeat me and try to intimidate me, and he was the one that would always threaten to open the door: “If you don’t talk, we open the door.” And I remember a tape recorder being there. You know, I don’t know when they turned it on or when they turned it off, but I remember one being there. And after that, they took me back out, and they didn’t come back that day, the rest of that day. They just left me with the New Orleans Police Department.

And my understanding is that it was a softening up period, that they was going to continue to beat me. No water, nothing to eat, in a bright room in a holding cell, but the lights were real bright, and you just got your underwear on. Then they’d come in there with a hot blanket, real wet, real, real soaking wet, not so much as scalding, like it would take your skin off, but it was hot enough to make it uncomfortable, and they’d throw it over my head. And one would pull my head back, and I’m trying to breathe, and I’m sucking in water from the blanket. And, you know, you feel like you’re going to drown, you know?

And so, then after they did that for awhile, they’d come back, and they — this is when I was introduced to the cattle prod. And that’s when they told me, he says, “You know what this is.” You know, I said, “No, I don’t know what that is.” Matter of fact, I could hardly talk from screaming so much that my voice was hoarse. And they started probing me with the cattle prod on the back of my ear, down the side of my arm, underneath my arm, all real sensitive areas. And they says, “You know, we can do this all night long. We have nothing to do, you know. And this will continue until you talk to the people from San Francisco.”

So then, after they left, they left me in the room again, so I’m sitting there. I can’t move. I can’t go to the toilet. I can’t — you know, I’ve urinated all over myself from the electric shocks. And the door opens, and there’s two New York Police Department — two New York detectives. They start asking me questions about a shooting of police officers in New York. And they said, “You know what?” He says, “If you don’t want to cooperate with us, we’re just going to — we’re not going to come back and stop anything.” You know, it went on for awhile, and then they opened the door on me, and police came back in from New Orleans, the police.

The New Orleans Police Department did the dirty work. All the detectives from out of town just basically asked questions. And when you didn’t cooperate, they would open the door, and the New Orleans Police Department would come in.

Well, that time, they took me from one room to a big assembly room, like a big detective room with a number of different desks. And I think it was maybe about 12:00. It was late at night, real late, because it was quiet, and there was no secretaries or nothing in this office. And one would hit me from behind my neck, and I would feel myself going unconscious. And before I hit the floor, they would start kicking and stomping me. I think I must have been unconscious two or three times, because they would kick me to sleep and kick me back awake. And when I wake up, I’m being kicked. But I remember laying in a fetus position the whole time, just trying to get balled up tight enough to keep my head in. But I had — I was chained up, so I couldn’t get my hands over my head. But I could ball up as tight as I could.

And they did that all day, all night, put me in a cell at night, and I thought I was going to get some sleep. They never took the chains off me then. I’m lying on a steel bed with chains on my ankles and chains around my waist, and I laid there ’til maybe four hours, thinking I was going to get some sleep. But every time you hear keys, you jump. You know, you’re waiting for it to happen again. And they come in. And when they come, they don’t walk up to the door; they open the door, and then they just rush in and grab you. And, you know, you’re so scared. You know, they tell you over and over that they’re going to kill you. And that was Sunday, they did that.

And Sunday night, they told me, says, “You know, if you go to the courtroom, you know, there’s nothing gonna stop there. If you says anything in the courtroom, we’ll bring you back.” They’re not going to let you go into the custody of a sheriff’s department in St. Bernard Parish, New Orleans Parish sheriff’s department, because the whole prison there was Old Parish Prison, which was built back in the 1800s and, then he says, a lot of escapes and stuff, and they can make an excuse to keep me there, so I better do what they say, or they’re — because I’m not going to be turned over to the sheriff’s department.

So, me and John Bowman, they didn’t take us to court with everybody else. We heard them taking prisoners out for court for arraignment that next morning, and I’m anticipating that they have to arraign me, because they arrested me, and, you know, seventy-two hours is up. You know, you’ve got to take me to court that Monday. And they just kept us there.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Ray Boudreaux into this.




AMY GOODMAN: I think it was very powerful testimony that you just offered. And unfortunately, we just have a few minutes. Ray, where were you at this time?

RAY BOUDREAUX: I was in New Orleans with Harold and the rest of the guys. But at some point, we observed that the police were trailing us and watching us. And I told everybody — I was living in Atlanta at the time. And I told everybody I’m leaving the next day. And so, fortunately, I missed the arrests and all of the things that happened in New Orleans. And I didn’t find out about what happened to Harold until later on, of course.

AMY GOODMAN: They didn’t do — this did not — you did not experience any of what happened to Harold?

RAY BOUDREAUX: Oh, no. Not in New Orleans, no.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And then, your — eventually a state court threw out your arrest on these charges because of the torturing?



JUAN GONZALEZ: And now, thirty-five years later, you get a new federal indictment on this case.

HAROLD TAYLOR: State indictment.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Oh, a new state indictment on this case. What was your reaction when you learned that thirty-five years later they were coming back on the same accusations?

HAROLD TAYLOR: Well, you know, it was really funny to me, because it was a day of 9/11 that really shook me. I was working at Tyndall Air Force Base. I had the clearance to work on flights, flight line side. And after 9/11, I was sitting up, getting ready to go work. You know, I just live five miles from the Air Force base, so I was sitting up, having a cup of coffee. And I just happened to look up and see the tower, one tower on fire. I said, “Wow! How are they going to get up there and put that out?” You know, I didn’t know an airplane had hit it. And when I was sitting there watching it and listening, I see this other airplane. And it comes into the tower. And I says, “Wow! It’s bad.” I said it’s the old and new now. Anybody who’s ever said anything, been a participant of any progressive group during the COINTELPRO era, they’re coming back at everybody.

I think John Bowen — he’s deceased now — he called me, and he says, “What do you think?” I said, I think the chickens have come home to roost.” And he says, “Well, you better get ready,” he says, “because they’re going to come knocking on doors.” I don’t think it was a year later that they started asking people questions. And they were asking me questions like, “We just want you to look at pictures of white people and identify these white people. We’re not interested in you.” And then, all of a sudden, they throw this Ingleside thing on me. “What do you know about Ingleside? Look at these other pictures.” First, they had a photo with just all white people on it. Then after I had said, “Well, I don’t know none of these people,” they flipped the page, and it’s all black people. He says, “Do you know any of these people?” I says, “Well, yeah. That’s Ray Boudreaux. You know, I know him. That’s John Bowman. And this is me right here.” You know, and that’s where that went.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. Tonight, you’re here in New York from Panama City — you’re here from Los Angeles, you from Boston, Soffiyah — at the Martin Luther King Labor Center on 43rd Street between Eighth and Ninth in New York City. You’ll be there at 7:00 for an evening where you’ll be talking. And the court date is December —


AMY GOODMAN: Third. And we will follow that story in San Francisco. I want to thank you to you all for being with us.

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