A local attorney
is planning to file a lawsuit Tuesday morning against the FBI's
Buffalo field office on behalf of Leonard Peltier. Peltier, the
former American Indian Movement activist, was convicted in 1977 for
the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents in a shootout at Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation in South Dakota.
Michael Kuzma, one
of several attorneys on the Peltier defense team, says the Buffalo
office has refused to hand over documents that could help reopen the
well over a year and exhausted our administrative remedies,"
Kuzma said. "We'll be suing the FBI to gain full access to any
and all records they have on Leonard Peltier in Buffalo."
Peltier has long
been a political cause celebre, with supporters saying he was
railroaded in a trial marked by accusations that evidence was
withheld and testimony was coerced.
The FBI is known
to be just as passionate about Peltier's guilt. Nearly 500 current
and retired agents held a march in December 2000 to urge
then-President Bill Clinton not to provide clemency to Peltier in the
waning days of his administration.
A heavily excised
July 7, 1975, Teletype message from the Buffalo office to then-FBI
Director Clarence M. Kelley and Special Agent Richard G. Held is the
catalyst for the lawsuit, according to Kuzma. The defense team
discovered it earlier this year after the FBI turned over documents
to the National Archives.
"It appears a
Buffalo source was trying to infiltrate the defense team," said
Kuzma, who also works as a legislative assistant to Common Council
Member David A. Franczyk of the Fillmore District. "That makes
us especially intrigued about the files compiled by the Buffalo field
office, and we want to see what else the Buffalo field office
Kuzma sent a
Freedom of Information Act request in November 2002 to the Buffalo
field office. Paul M. Moskal, supervisory special agent, confirmed in
a letter that there were files in the Buffalo office's possession,
but he said they were "too voluminous to be processed using the
resources of this office." He said the request was being
referred to Washington for processing.
several months for a response from FBI headquarters, Kuzma filed an
administrative appeal in April with the Justice Department's Office
of Information and Privacy. When that failed to pry open the FBI's
files, Kuzma said, he was left with little choice but to file the
position this material should have been turned over at trial 26 years
ago," Kuzma said. "Even if it wasn't, it should have been
turned over after the first . . . . suit was filed over two decades
"I think it's
outlandish that we're still waiting for these materials."
Moskal said he was
legally prevented from commenting on the status of Freedom of
Information Act requests.
overseeing the requests when he joined the defense team in 2001,
working alongside principal attorneys Bruce Ellison, Barry Bachrach
and Carl Nadler. Also involved are former U.S. Attorney General
Ramsey Clark and Jennifer Harbury.
Prior to that,
Kuzma was a longtime supporter of Peltier, writing letters and
lobbying on his behalf.
Although the U.S.
government contended during the trial that it had only about 3,500
pages on the Peltier case, tens of thousands have surfaced since
Last year, 45,000
pages emerged from the Minnesota field office alone, and 2,425 in
Chicago, Kuzma said.
Kuzma thinks that
Peltier and the American Indian Movement were victims of the FBI's
notorious COINTELPRO domestic intelligence-gathering program, a
widespread surveillance effort used against anti-war activists and
others protesting government policies.
Peltier, a native
of Grand Forks, N.D., has spent nearly half of his 59 years behind
bars in maximum-security prisons, most recently in the U.S.
Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan.
e-mail: [email protected]