Saturday, January 30, 2010

Amtrak passenger detained in Colorado after overheard threats says accusations unfounded

Amtrak passenger detained in Colorado after overheard threats says accusations unfounded

Man accused in Colo. train threat denies charges
By P. SOLOMON BANDA Associated Press Jan 29, 10

A man pulled off an Amtrak train after passengers reported hearing him talk about al-Qaida and make threatening statements is well known among prison rights advocates after spending more than 20 years in solitary confinement.

Ojore Lutalo, 64, from Elizabeth, N.J., denies making any kind of threats while aboard an Amtrak train during an interview in Denver on Friday, Jan. 29, 2010. He was arrested Tuesday in La Junta, Colo.,... (Associated Press)

Ojore Nuru Lutalo, 64, of Elizabeth, N.J., was arrested Tuesday at the La Junta train station in southeastern Colorado and faces a felony charge of endangering public transportation. He was free on $30,000 bond and faces another hearing Feb. 5 in Otero County District Court.

Lutalo, a self-described anarchist, told The Associated Press in an interview Friday that he was returning to New Jersey after speaking at a Los Angeles book fair sponsored by the Anarchist Black Cross Federation when passengers apparently overheard his cell phone conversation.

"I was talking to people about what transpired at the book fair," Lutalo said, quickly adding: "I never made a threat or a reference to Amtrak period, so I'm waiting for court so I can challenge my accuser."

Lutalo was released from a New Jersey prison in August after serving 28 years for armed robbery and weapons offenses involving a shootout with a police officer in 1975 and another shootout with a drug dealer in 1981. He served more than 20 years of that sentence confined in a cell alone for 23 hours a day because the anarchist material he was reading was a deemed a security threat, according his New Jersey attorney, Bruce Afran.

Lutalo said he had washed his clothes and had covered himself with his robe when he laid down to sleep in a coach car on the train headed to Chicago.

"The next thing I know I'm looking down the barrel of semiautomatic pistols," he said. "They didn't tell me what I had done, who was supposed to have called, what I was supposed to have done. They didn't tell me anything."

In an affidavit filed in La Junta, a small farming and ranching community about 140 miles southeast of Denver, police said passengers reported hearing Lutalo saying he hadn't killed anyone yet, and that he talked about going to jail.

"We have to work in small groups. They can hold you for 18 months. Do they have security on these trains? Are you with me or not?" passengers reported hearing Lutalo say.

One passenger said he heard Lutalo mention al-Qaida, saying, "17th century tactics won't work, we have 21st century tactics."

Lutalo was arrested at the La Junta train station. Police said he was not armed or carrying explosives. He was carrying was police described as propaganda for an anarchist group called Afrikan Liberation Army. Lutalo said the "propaganda" was literature he had picked from tables at a book fair.

La Junta Police Chief Todd Quick did not return messages.

FBI spokeswoman Kathy Wright said the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Colorado Springs was notified but no federal charges were expected.

According to New Jersey Parole Board spokesman Neal Buccino, Lutalo served more than two decades behind bars for armed robbery and weapons offenses. Authorities said he tried to rob a man at gunpoint in Asbury Park, N.J., in September 1981 and shot him in the arm.

At that time, Lutalo had only been paroled from prison for nine months. He was first incarcerated in 1975 for an armed bank robbery in Trenton with two other men.

Lutalo had been denied parole in 2005 and was released after he maxed out his sentence. He is not on parole now.

Afran, who filed a lawsuit challenging Lutalo's treatment in prison, said Lutalo committed no violent infractions of any kind during his entire prison sentence.

"Whatever comments he was making on the phone may have been just a case of him not being sensitive to the world we live in now. Based on my knowledge of his life over the past 27 years, I'm quite certain he didn't make any threats of any kind."

Bonnie Kerness, with the Newark, N.J.-based American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch Program, said Lutalo's treatment in prison made him a political prisoner and groups like the Anarchist Black Cross Federation raise money to help those prisoners. She described Lutalo as mild-mannered and polite and said she had spoken with him by phone several times while he was on the train.

"It seems like so much ado about nothing," she said from the group's offices in Newark, N.J.

Lutalo said he took a train instead of flying because he was worried that his criminal record and known anarchist political views would subject him to extra screening.

"It's understandable in light of 9/11 and the Christmas Day bombing plot. People expect that," Lutalo said of tight airport security.

Lutalo said the Asbury Park robbery involved a drug dealer who had confronted him with a gun as Lutalo tried to raise awareness about the danger of drugs, and he said he was simply a better shot. He acknowledges he was involved in the Trenton robbery.

"But that's old history, now," Lutalo said.


Associated Press Writer Beth DeFalco in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.

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