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EXCLUSIVE: No. 3 at Justice OK’d Panther reversal
Ms. King and a deputy are expected to travel to Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet behind closed doors with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, and Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the panel, to discuss continuing concerns about the case.
The department also has yet to provide any records sought by The Times under a Freedom of Information Act request filed in May seeking documents detailing the decision process. Department officials also declined to answer whether any outside groups had raised concerns about the case or pressured the department to drop it.
Kristen Clarke, director of political participation at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Washington, however, confirmed to The Times that she talked about the case with lawyers at the Justice Department and shared copies of the complaint with several persons. She said, however, her organization was “not involved in the decision to dismiss the civil complaint.”
She said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has consistently argued that the department should bring more voter intimidation cases, adding that it was “disconcerting” that it did not do so.
Mr. Perrelli, a prominent private practice attorney, served previously as a counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno in the Clinton administration and was an Obama supporter who raised more than $500,000 for the Democrat candidate in the 2008 elections. He authorized a delay to give department officials more time to decide what to do, said officials familiar with the case but not authorized to discuss it publicly. He eventually approved the decision to drop charges against three of the four defendants, they said.
At issue was what, if any, punishment to seek against the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (NBPP) and three of its members accused in a Jan. 7 civil complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
Two NBPP members, wearing black berets, black combat boots, black dress shirts and black jackets with military-style markings, were charged in a civil complaint with intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling place, including brandishing a 2-foot-long nightstick and issuing racial threats and racial insults. Authorities said a third NBPP member “managed, directed and endorsed the behavior.”
The election-day incident gained national attention when it was captured by a voter-fraud citizen activist group on videotape and distributed on YouTube (below).
None of the NBPP members responded to the charges or made any appearance in court.
“Intimidation outside of a polling place is contrary to the democratic process,” said Grace Chung Becker, a Bush administration political appointee who was the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights at the time the case was filed. “The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to protect the fundamental right to vote and the department takes allegations of voter intimidation seriously.”
Mrs. Becker, now on a leave of absence from government work, said she personally reviewed the NBPP complaint and approved its filing in federal court. She said the complaint had been the subject of numerous reviews and discussions with the career lawyers.
Mrs. Becker said Ms. King was overseeing other cases at the time and was not involved in the decision to file the original complaint.
A Justice Department memo shows that career lawyers in the case decided as early as Dec. 22 to seek a complaint against the NBPP; its chairman, Malik Zulu Shabazz, a lawyer and D.C. resident; Minister King Samir Shabazz, a resident of Philadelphia and head of the Philadelphia NBPP chapter who was accused of wielding the nightstick; and Jerry Jackson, a resident of Philadelphia and a NBPP member.
“We believe the deployment of uniformed members of a well-known group with an extremely hostile racial agenda, combined with the brandishing of a weapon at the entrance to a polling place, constitutes a violation of Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act which prohibits types of intimidation, threats and coercion,” the memo said.
About the Author
Jerry Seper is the investigative editor for The Washington Times.
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