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ATLANTA � It’s been nearly 40 years since J. Edgar Hoover set undercover FBI operatives and informants on the trail of the Black Panther Party. That was the group founded in Oakland by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to combat police aggression and social injustice in the black community, boasting as many as 50,000 members nationally before splintering in the early 1970s and finally dissolving in 1977. But the harsh memories and confusing array of finger-pointing and accusations that accompanied the Panthers’ dissolution continue, as evidenced by a suit filed by the party’s last chairman, Elaine Brown, who led the organization from 1974 to 1977. Brown accuses fellow ex-Panther and Emory University law school senior lecturer Kathleen Cleaver and her son-in-law, Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, of defamation and other offenses for spreading allegations that Brown herself was an FBI informant. Brown, represented by Regina Sledge Molden of Molden Holley Fergusson & Thompson, lives in Brunswick and is running for the Green Party nomination for president in 2008. The suit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court on Dec. 3, stems from an event during the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta last June in which Brown says a Green Party official relayed a conversation she had had with Cleaver. According to the suit, Cleaver � the ex-wife of the late Eldridge Cleaver, the one-time Black Panther Minster of Information � was asked whether she would support Brown’s candidacy. Brown’s complaint said Cleaver responded that “she would never support Ms. Brown because she was an FBI informant.” Filed along with the suit is a lengthy e-mail allegedly authored by Pratt under the name he now goes by, Geronimo ji Jaga, and forwarded from one of Cleaver’s e-mail address, that accuses Brown of instigating the shooting deaths of two Black Panther members, then falsifying her testimony at the resulting murder trial. Newton appointed Brown to chair the party when he fled the country to avoid standing trial for several charges, including the 1974 murder of a 17-year-old prostitute. Pratt is a one-time Black Panther Deputy Minister of Defense who served 27 years in prison for the 1972 robbery and murder of a Santa Monica woman before being freed when his conviction was overturned in 1997. In the e-mail bearing his name referenced in Brown’s complaint, Pratt says that he denied Brown entry into the Black Panther Party. “So it is impossible for Elaine to have joined any formation of which I was in charge as I was very meticulous/selective re new membership. Further, I am sure that we never permitted membership to ANYONE who testified for the pig so-called justice system as they were known, as ‘Snitches and/or Rats.’” The complaint also notes the e-mail’s characterization of Brown as “this sad sally for the COINTELPRO conspirators,” a reference to the FBI’s infiltration program. Since chairing the Black Panther Party, Brown has written two books � “A Taste of Power,” her 1992 autobiography, and “The Condemnation of Little B,” an exploration of the trial and conviction of a 13-year-old Michael Lewis for the 1997 slaying of a Vine City man � and has carved out a career as a speaker, civil rights activist and sometime-politician. In addition to her current status as a Green Party presidential candidate, she made an unsuccessful run for mayor of Brunswick in 1995. Her suit says that, by initiating and propagating a campaign of false accusations both verbally and on Black Panther-related and other Web sites, Cleaver, Pratt and three “John Does” have damaged and continue to harm her reputation, her ability to earn a livelihood and her chances for political success. Efforts to reach Brown via her campaign Web site’s e-mail and a request for comment relayed through her attorneys were unsuccessful. Telephone and e-mail messages for Cleaver were also not returned. Pratt is a founder of and active with the Morgan City, La.-based Kuji Foundation, a human rights organization, but the Daily Report was unable to contact the foundation; the suit does not indicate his whereabouts. Molden, Brown’s lead attorney, said she could not comment on the suit at this point. “I expect to have a lot to say when the time comes,” said Molden, who filed the suit along with firm partners Kenneth Thompson Jr. and Colette Fergusson. “I think the complaint is pretty specific.” Beyond detailing the alleged defamation of Brown, the complaint illustrates the violent intrigue both within the Black Panthers and its fellow organizations, as well as with the law enforcement community in the late 1960s. It includes a synopsis of the FBI’s program to disrupt and destroy the groups by inciting violence, including a scheme aimed at the Chicago Black Panther branch to send “disparaging anonymous letters to gang leaders, claiming the Panthers were threatening their lives.” “Conflict between the Panther Party and other groups, including shootings and beatings, led to the deaths of at least four Black Panther Party members,” the complaint adds. “FBI agents claimed credit for instigating some of the violence that ensued.” “Plaintiff Brown’s reputation in the community for being scrupulously loyal to the advancement of the political power of African-Americans is central to her identity, her legacy and efficacy as a political activist and her livelihood on the lecture circuit,” the complaint says. “The false allegation that Ms. Brown is or was at any time an undercover government agent or a snitch renders her a traitor of the Black Panther Party and effectively destroys her ability to make a living in the manner in which she has done since the Party dismantled.” The three-count complaint, which seeks unspecified damages, sues the defendants for defamation, tortious interference with business relations and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The complaint is Brown v. Cleaver et al., 2007CV143579 (Fult. Sup. Ct.). Greg Land is a reporter with Fulton County Daily Report, a Recorder affiliate based in Atlanta.

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