- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

A committee seeking the release of imprisoned American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier filed a lawsuit yesterday against several FBI officials, charging that a White House protest they staged in 2000 denied Peltier a chance at presidential clemency.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, said 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 by President Clinton.
Attorneys for the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee want the agents, including former Director Louis J. Freeh and the FBI Agents' Association, to pay civil damages of $1 million. The agents are accused of violating Peltier's constitutional rights.
The suit charges that the FBI agents, in a nationwide campaign, sought falsely to "characterize Peltier as a cold-blooded killer."
More than 500 FBI agents and bureau employees staged an unprecedented protest Dec. 15, 2000, calling on Mr. Clinton to deny clemency for Peltier. The agents and employees silently marched two-by-two around the White House to deliver a petition of 9,500 signatures opposing the clemency request.
"Leonard Peltier executed two FBI agents lying on the ground, posing no threat to him, after they had been injured," said FBI Agent John Sennett, former head of the FBI Agents Association, who helped organize the protest.
"There is no contest in this case between the call for justice and the call for mercy," he said.
At the time of the protest, FBI officials noted that the agents and employees were off-duty. FBI spokesman Mike Kortan told reporters that "like other federal workers and citizens," they have the "right to express their views on issues they feel passionately about."
Peltier, who will be eligible for parole in 2009, is serving two consecutive life terms at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., for the murders of FBI Agents Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams. He was sentenced in June 1977 in Fargo, N.D., two years after the killings at South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, near Wounded Knee.
The killings occurred in June 1975 after Peltier's vehicle was stopped by the agents looking for a suspect in a kidnapping and assault.
According to court records, Peltier fled the vehicle with two other men and began shooting at the agents with semiautomatic rifles. Mr. Coler and Mr. Williams were immediately wounded.
Crime-scene experts said the agents fired five shots before being hit, compared with 125 bullet holes in their car. Prosecutors said Peltier and two others fired three shots at point-blank range, hitting Mr. Williams in the face as he knelt, and Mr. Coler, who was unconscious, twice in the head.
The White House had confirmed in November 2000 that Mr. Clinton was reviewing requests for executive clemency, including Peltier's, and that he expected to make a decision in the case before he left office.
Mr. Clinton had promised during a radio interview that month that he would consider clemency for Peltier, telling Pacifica Radio he owed it to both sides of the Peltier issue to give the clemency request "an honest look-see." He ultimately did not sign the Peltier request.
Mr. Freeh did not participate in the silent White House protest, but spoke at a rally for fallen law enforcement officers, saying Peltier's guilt had been "firmly established." He said at the rally that the FBI "cannot forget this cold-blooded crime, nor should the American people."
A week before the White House protest, Mr. Freeh had asked Mr. Clinton not to grant clemency to Peltier, saying any commutation of his sentence would "signal disrespect" for law enforcement and the public.
Mr. Freeh called the Peltier killings "the most vile disrespect for all that we cherish."


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