J. Edgar Hoover, the controversial director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a half-century, allowed the killers of two policemen, in Cleveland and Omaha, to get away with murder in order to put so-called black militant leaders in prison. Although a matter of record, the details of the killings and tainted prosecutions are buried in court files and the public is largely unaware of two of the most despicable actions committed by the FBI during COINTELPRO, a clandestine counterintelligence operation.
From 1956 to 1971, J. Edgar Hoover directed a massive, illegal operation to “disrupt” the activities of domestic political activists with whom Hoover disagreed. Codenamed COINTELPRO, the program targeted thousands of Americans, focusing its most lethal fury against the Black Panther Party and other “Black Nationalist” groups.
In Cleveland, policeman John Howard Smith was shot to death on August 10, 1970, in a random revenge killing. The shooter, Robert Perry, was in a car full of members of a group called Afro Set or Black Nationalist Party for Self-Defense. Group leader Harllel Jones, who was not in the death car, was convicted in March 1972 for the murder of Smith.
Chief Judge Merritt of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals described the case in a 1994 decision:
“In March 1972 based primarily upon information supplied by a member of Afro Set who had become a confidential FBI informant, Jones was convicted in state court of second-degree murder and shooting with intent to kill or wound. The informant, a co-defendant and admitted triggerman, testified that Jones had ordered the members of Afro Set to shoot police officers and security guards at random in retaliation for the shooting of an Afro Set member by a security guard. In return for his testimony, first-degree murder charges against the informant were dropped.”
The FBI had Harllel Jones targeted for counterintelligence action and the shooting by group members provided an opportunity for a frame-up. The FBI recruited Perry, the confessed killer, as an informant before the trial. The prosecution also withheld an exculpatory statement from a co-defendant fifteen year-old witness who had been in the car. The result was a conviction against Jones and a dismissed first-degree murder charge for Perry.