Former Black Panther jailed for not testifying

Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, September 1, 2005

A judge has jailed a former member of the Black Panther Party for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the killings of two San Francisco police officers in the early 1970s.

Ray Michael Boudreaux, 62, who has worked for 23 years as an electrician for Los Angeles County, is being held indefinitely at San Francisco County Jail on the order of Superior Court Judge Robert Dondero.

Prosecutors contend Boudreaux is an important witness in their investigation into who carried out the attacks. That investigation was largely dormant for 30 years but was revived earlier this summer when state prosecutors convened a grand jury in San Francisco.

The first attack happened Feb. 16, 1970, when a bomb that had been planted at Park Station on Waller Street exploded. Sgt. Brian McDonnell, 44, was killed, and eight other officers were injured.

On Aug. 29, 1971, two men burst into Ingleside Police Station and fired a shotgun through a hole in a bulletproof glass window. Sgt. John V. Young, 45, was killed, and a civilian clerk was wounded. The street on which the police station is located was later renamed in Young's honor.

No one took responsibility for either attack, but authorities have always assumed that radical groups were involved and that the two incidents were related.

Boudreaux served in the Vietnam War, returned home in 1968 and soon joined up with the Black Panthers in Oakland, his attorney said, working at a breakfast program in the schools. He now lives in Pasadena.

In 1971, Boudreaux was arrested on assault charges in Los Angeles with two other men who authorities suspected were tied to the Ingleside Station attack. Boudreaux was cleared of the assault charges, but the two men he was with were later rearrested in New Orleans in connection with the 1971 shooting.

In 1974, a court ruled that San Francisco and New Orleans police had engaged in what amounted to torture to extract a confession from one of the men and threw out the charges.

The grand jury convened in San Francisco is looking into both killings. Boudreaux and at least a dozen other people, some of them former members of black radical groups, were subpoenaed and offered limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony.

Boudreaux, however, refused to testify. Dondero, who is presiding over the grand jury proceedings, jailed Boudreaux on contempt charges Monday and ordered that he be held until he accepts the immunity deal.

It is unclear what Boudreaux's possible connection to the investigation is. David Druliner, special assistant attorney general who is bringing the case before the grand jury, did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

But in a contempt hearing in court Monday, he told Dondero that Boudreaux is "a bright individual. He knows what is going on, and he's choosing,clearly, not to answer lawful questions."

Boudreaux's attorney challenged the legal validity of the limited immunity offered by prosecutors, saying it failed to protect his client's Fifth Amendment rights.

"The privilege against self-incrimination seems to be meaningless to them," attorney Michael Burt said. "They figure, 'We want your testimony. Testify against yourself -- you are just going to have to trust us that we are not going to make improper use of that.' It's a little scary."

He argued that under the legal standard in effect at the time of the killings, Boudreaux would have been granted immunity from all prosecution if he testified. The current offer would shield Boudreaux only from prosecution about matters he brings up in his testimony, Burt said.

Dondero ruled that the terms of immunity could be dealt with after Boudreaux testified.

Burt then argued that Boudreaux had reason to be skeptical of any government deal. He called to the stand Jill Elijah, a Harvard Law School professor, who testified that given the FBI's history of civil rights violations against the Black Panthers, "Mr. Boudreaux would have no reason to trust any representations made to him by the government with respect to his immunity, his safety or his protection from prosecution."

Elijah testified that "it's been well-documented that well over 30 members of the Black Panther Party across the United States were assassinated by the FBI, or in tandem with the FBI and local police force operatives."

Dondero told Burt that his client would be jailed until the grand jury's investigation was over or a new grand jury was impaneled.

"He has the key to the jail cell in his possession if he testifies," Dondero said.

Other former radicals are also supposed to appear before the grand jury. Among them is John Bowman, one of the two men arrested in 1971 in connection with the Ingleside Station attack.

His attorney, Arthur Wachtel, said San Francisco and New Orleans police had used cattle prods and wet blankets on his client to try to force a confession. Like Burt, he said prosecutors should be granting full immunity to anyone who testifies before the grand jury.

"What this all suggests is that they are playing games and misusing the grand jury process," Wachtel said.

E-mail Jaxon Van Derbeken at

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