Former Black Panther Party leader Elmer Gerard "Geronimo" Pratt, who spent 25 years in prison until his murder conviction was overturned in 1997, has settled his false imprisonment and civil rights lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the FBI, his lawyers said Tuesday.
The city's share of the $4.5 million settlement, which sources put at $2.75 million, must be approved by the City Council. The federal government's share of $1.75 million already has been agreed upon by officials in Washington, one source said.
Pratt, 53, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has always maintained that he is innocent and was framed by Los Angeles police officers and FBI agents.
Those agents, Pratt has argued, had him under surveillance and knew through illegal wiretaps that he was in the San Francisco Bay area attending Black Panther Party meetings in December 1968, when a schoolteacher, Caroline Olsen, was fatally wounded during a robbery in Southern California.
The FBI has argued that Pratt was never recorded on those wiretaps, conducted by Oakland police.
"The people responsible for Geronimo's false imprisonment and frame-up have admitted their liability and paid a substantial amount of money for what they did to Pratt," said attorney Stuart Hanlon, who spent 23 years pressing Pratt's appeals.
Pratt now uses the name Geronimo ji Jaga and has moved back to Morgan City, La., his hometown, where he is working to convert the abandoned, once-segregated school he attended into a youth center.
He said he had wanted to use his lawsuit as a platform to expose what he called the FBI's "evil scheme, that secret war that was waged" against the Panthers and members of other militant black organizations in the 1960s and 1970s.
Pratt was first implicated in Caroline Olsen's murder by Julius C. "Julio" Butler, a disgruntled ex-Panther and former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy. Butler testified at Pratt's trial that Pratt, in a private conversation, had confessed to robbing and shooting Olsen and her husband. Butler also vehemently denied on the witness stand that he had ever been an informant for law enforcement.
But FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act seven years after Pratt's conviction revealed that Butler had been providing information to the bureau and to Los Angeles police for at least three years before Pratt was tried.
Neither Pratt's jury nor his defense attorneys had known of Butler's activities as an informant.