—by Chuck Turner
Tomorrow I begin a three-year sentence in the Hazelton Federal Prison in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia. The sentence is based on the jury’s acceptance of the prosecution accusation that I had accepted $1,000 to file a hearing order claiming discrimination in the issuance of liquor licenses. It is also based on three charges that I lied to the FBI officials when they asked three different questions regarding my interactions with their agent.
In addition, to these counts at the sentencing the prosecutor and judge agreed without a jury that I had perjured myself when I testified that I did not remember their agent and his actions. By charging me with perjury, they justified a three-year sentence despite the fact that the conviction was my first offense and that I had been set up by the US prosecutor.
My case represents yet another example of the historical use of US prosecutorial, investigative, and judicial powers to achieve political objectives. A cursory examination of United States history will show that the legal system has been used to give those in control a tool to eliminate those political opposition, going back to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Act, passed in 1791 two years after the Constitution was ratified.
J.Edgar Hoover became a household word through his organizing of an army of lawyers, called the Federal Bureau of Investigation. These G-men were armed with investigative powers enabling them to harass and intimidate those whom Hoover and his allies saw as threats. While the targeting of the Black movement is clear, we need to recognize that this flagrant use of power was turned on anyone who dissented.
The sting operation, targeting of Senator Wilkerson and me, initiated by former US Attorney Sullivan is part of that same pattern. That is, the sting operation initiated by Sullivan was focused on taking two strong, vocal Black advocates out of action; it was not about corruption in the issuing of liquor licenses. In my case, there had never been any allegations of improper financial actions so there was no legal justification for them even instituting the sting.
Also, as the prosecution’s chief agent, Ron Wilburn, has publicly stated, if you are serious about weeding out corruption in the issuing of liquor licenses in Boston, your investigation will have to have a wider focus than two Black politicians who probably have fewer liquor licenses in their districts than in any other districts in the City. I have always believed that Sullivan’s key personal motivation for the sting was his desire as a career politician to run for future office and his belief that getting rid of us would be a political feather in his cap in this state, particularly if he ran against Governor Patrick.
To thoroughly explore the motivations of US Atty Sullivan, however, you have to put his actions in the context of a Bush administration which had fired through the collusion of Karl Rove and the US Attorney General Gonzales eight US Atty Generals less than a year before the Massachusetts US Prosecutor’s office initiated their sting focusing on Senator Wilkerson and me. In fact, I have received reports that the US Attorney General met with Sullivan here in Boston just prior to the signing of the Wilburn contract. I also think that it is significant that on the day, US Attorney Sullivan resigned in March 2008, he announced that he was opening a law office in Boston with his partner, John “Patriot Act” Ashcroft who opened offices in Dallas, Houston, and St. Louis in that same month, also headed by former US Attorneys.
While I can’t speak to the interests of the Bush administration in removing the Senator, I think their targeting of me in 2007 was due to my sponsoring that year a resolution that the Boston City Council approved 13 to 0, instructing the Massachusetts Congressional delegation to initiate action within Congress to withdraw our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and bring the money being spent on these wars back to the United States to support the rebuilding of Boston and other urban areas.
However, I believe they thought they could use their connections with the press and the City Council to remove me without going through the process of an expensive court action. Therefore, two hours after I was arrested at City Hall at approximately 6 a.m., pictures were sent around the country allegedly showing me accepting a bribe that I had extorted from the FBI agent. These pictures were taken by the FBI/MA US Prosecutor agent, Ron Wilburn, whom they had paid $30,000 to take down the Senator and me.
At noon on the same day while I sat in a federal jail in Worcester waiting to find out why I was arrested, City Councilor Feeney after consulting with the Mayor’s lawyer, William Sinnott and others, announced she was stripping me of my committee chairmanships and memberships. She also announced that there would be a hearing with the Council regarding my fate on the next business day. However, when five hundred people rallied to attend the hearing, Councilor Feeney called it off and said that she would await my indictment before taking action.
US Attorney Sullivan made it clear in his press conference on the day of my arrest that he was going to use all his resources to try to force me off the Council and achieve his objective of silencing me. However, his plan backfired in that from the moment I walked out of the Worcester Court on the day of my arraignment, I loudly and strongly proclaimed my innocence. My lawyers and others warned me that it would be best to keep my mouth shut and leave the work to them.
While that strategy had a logic to it, as a sitting City Councilor who planned to run the following year, I believed I had no alternative but to fight back verbally. So during the month following my arrest, I staged a number of rallies to proclaim my innocence. One of these rallies even included former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who in his capacity as President of the Internal Action Center came to Boston to support my innocence.
By January 5, 2010, less than two months after I was arrested Attorney Sullivan began to realize that he was losing the battle in the court of public opinion and initiated his next action to silence me by having his agent, AUSA John McNeil, file a motion to require that before his office would share any of “their evidence” with my lawyer, I would have to sign a “gag” order agreeing not to reveal any information received from them. Since I saw this as a trap to put me in jail as I spoke publicly about my innocence, I refused to accept the evidence after the judge granted the motion.
Sullivan’s next ploy was to file a motion to require that I take the evidence whether I wanted to do it or not. Since I saw this as an abuse of power to which I would not submit, I told my lawyers to send back the evidence to the US Attorney’s office that sent it. My position was that I was willing to go to jail in defense of my first amendment rights.
While the judge granted the motion that I had to take the evidence, they did not move to find me in contempt of court even though I refused to take it. This dance regarding the gag order and my refusal to take their “evidence” continued until I was returned to office with an over 60% plurality and agreed to take the evidence even with their gag order since the court of public opinion in my district had spoken in support of me through the election.
Since my purpose is not to retry the case this evening, I am not going to go through my analysis of the evidence. However, during the next month, I will put on paper my analysis of their evidence and why I believe that it proves that I am in fact innocent. This paper and other reflections can be accessed at SupportChuckTurner.com and the national on line newspaper, Black Commentator.com. I also suggest getting a copy of Shirley Kressel’s article on my innocence in a recent issue of the South End News.
Before moving to my recommendations on actions to curb the prosecutorial abuse/terrorism that we see at all levels of the American criminal justice system, let me share the words of MA Asst US Atty McNeil’s statement in his sentencing memorandum that shows his indignation at my thinking that I had freedom of speech despite the fact that they had accused me of a crime.
As McNeil said in his sentencing memorandum filed on January 20th of this year: “Turner’s conduct has been the antithesis of acceptance of responsibility. Instead, his conduct has affirmatively promoted disrespect for the law, has demeaned the seriousness of his offense, has debased his public office, and has eroded the public’s trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.”
Mc Neil continues: “Turner’s calculated and persistent attacks on local and federal law enforcement agencies, designed to deflect attention from his own corrupt conduct, have been corrosive to respect for important public institutions and the rule of law. From the day he was confronted with his crime, Turner has engaged in an incendiary campaign of misinformation, obfuscation and blame.” (McNeil then has a footnote referencing statements I had made in the papers regarding their legal assault on me)
The question for us as organizers is what are we going to do to stop the prosecutorial abuse not only here but also across the country at all levels of the system. Harvey Silverglate’s book, Three Felonies a Day provides excellent documentation of this prosecutorial misconduct run rampant.
Our first step here in Boston should be to support the call for action that will be made by Laila Murad on behalf of the Coalition sponsoring this forum. I fully support their idea of calling organizations together in two weeks to begin planning hearings that can take place in the summer to further expose the injustices at the MA Justice Department.
I also think that we need to study the Grand Jury system that gives inordinate power to prosecutors at all levels of the criminal justice system. We can not afford to allow the prosecutors to continue to have a compliant tool that makes it almost impossible to avoid indictments initiated by the prosecutors.
Another reform that we need to explore is the limitation of information that the prosecutors can publicly reveal and penalties for the media that go beyond the guidelines. While I support the general principle of the public’s right to know, I do not feel that prosecutors should have the right to try cases publicly before the defendant’s lawyer even has the basic evidence being used to bring an indictment.
I believe that we also have to pull the cloak off the federal and state prosecutors who are initiating these inappropriate legal actions. I am fascinated that among progressives we talk about FBI actions in various locations but rarely focus on the prosecutors who actually have the power to direct the focus of the FBI’s action. In we continue to allow the prosecutors to operate under the cloak of darkness, we will continue to be plagued by their actions.
Finally, we have to recognize that if we are going to build a country that our children and our children’s children can respect and appreciate, we have to find a way to make justice the hallmark of our criminal justice system, and work to eliminate the political expediency that hypocritically parades itself within the system as justice.
Those who wish to continue this discussion can write to me at the Hazelwood Penitentiary, P.O. Box 2000, Bruceton Mills, West Virginia 26525.