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Former Political Prisoner Settles Suit for $4.5 Million

On April 26, 2000, the city of Los Angeles, California and the federal government agreed to pay former political prisoner Geronimo Ji Jaga (formerly known as Elmer Pratt) $4.5 million to settle a wrongful imprisonment suit he had filed. Ji Jaga is a former member of the Black Panther Party who was framed for murdering a Santa Monica school teacher. Ji Jaga spent 27 years in California prisons before having his conviction reversed in 1997 when a judge found prosecutors had lied about a key witness against Ji Jaga being a police informant.

Shortly after his release from prison, Ji Jaga filed suit against the city of Los Angeles and the federal government alleging that they knowingly framed him for a crime they knew he did not commit because the FBI had him under surveillance at a Black Panther meeting in Oakland when the murder took place. The suit was filed on Ji Jaga's behalf by the ACLU of Southern California, Johnie Cochran and Stuart Hanlon. Cochran and Hanlon represented Ji Jaga in his 27 years of criminal litigation that eventually led to his release.

The federal government agreed to pay Ji Jaga $1.75 million, and the city of Los Angeles paid $2.75 million. Ji Jaga's attorneys had threatened a trial that would focus not only on his prosecution but the broader pattern of police harassment of the Black Panther Party and later cover-ups. It would also implicate local and federal law enforcement officials that are still employed in police work. Mark Rosenbaum, ACLU legal director, said, "It wasn't just a story of the past. It was a story of three decades of cover-up, and we made it clear that we were going to litigate that, and that it would implicate current officials. Nobody wanted that trial."

Ji Jaga currently lives in Morgantown, Louisiana. Stuart Hanlon, Ji Jaga's lawyer since 1974, said about the case, "It doesn't prove that justice works. To me, if it takes 27 years and this kind of legal struggle to get someone out, it doesn't prove anything about justice."

Source: New York Times

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Jijaga v. ______