Archive for Monday, June 26, 2000

FBI is opening some files on Peltier

Law enforcement reports to be available on Web site

June 26, 2000


— As supporters of Leonard Peltier gather to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the shootout at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the FBI is opening some of its files in the case against Peltier, an American Indian man convicted of killing two agents on the reservation.

Peltier, 55, is serving two life sentences for the deaths of Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams.

I wish I could have prevented it. But I didnt kill those people, and Im very sorry lives were lost that day. Leonard Peltier

He denies killing the men.

An American Indian, Joe Stuntz, also died in the 1975 shootout.

Today the FBI will post photographs, documents and other evidence from the case to its Web site.

Members of the Lawrence-based Leonard Peltier Defense Committee could not be reached for comment Sunday. LPDC spokeswoman Jean Day and co-coordinator Gina Chiala were among the Lawrence group traveling to the reservation for today's memorial ceremonies.

Chip Burrus, the FBI's assistant special agent in charge of Indian Country, said the agency is opening its files to help people understand what happened that day.

"We have been bad in the past about getting our message out," Burrus said. "We need to stay away from all the bad things that have happened to Native Americans and concentrate on those 20 minutes on the Jumping Bull compound."

Some of the evidence on the Internet site includes pictures of bullet-riddled vehicles and an arsenal of weapons -- from AR-15s and M-1 carbines to grenades, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported Sunday. The FBI opened its files to the newspaper last week.

"This is one of the worst shoot-outs in FBI history," Burrus said. "Two young FBI agents with service revolvers ... the terror going through their minds we can never imagine."

Peltier told the newspaper he regrets what happened that day but he maintains his innocence.

"I have so much remorse. I think about it a lot," Peltier said. "I wish I could have prevented it. But I didn't kill those people, and I'm very sorry lives were lost that day."

According to trial testimony, on the morning of June 26, 1975, the FBI agents were following a red-and-white Chevrolet Suburban on a gravel road about 3 miles southeast of Oglala.

Suddenly, at least seven rifles opened fire on them from three elevated positions 180 to 220 yards away. The poorly armed agents were pinned in a deadly cross-fire at the bottom of a shallow depression.

Coler, 28, and Williams, 27, were wounded in the gunfight. But they died after being shot with a high-velocity rifle at close range.

During the next year, four men were arrested in connection with the shootings. Charges against one were dropped; two others were acquitted. On April 18, 1977, a Fargo, N.D., jury convicted Peltier of two counts of first-degree murder.

Many people, including celebrities Robert Redford, Whoopi Goldberg, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa have called for clemency for Peltier.

Peltier, who is serving his sentence at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., has become one of the prison's best-known inmates.

He has granted hundreds of interviews and received international notoriety.

"There were a number of lives that were ruined that day," he said. "I'm sure those agents were just following orders. I'm sure their families miss them," he said, pointing out that three lives were lost that day.

"I know Joe Stuntz's kids and communicate with them. They miss their dad enormously. Their lives were ruined, too."

You can see the FBI's file at

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