Jury rules against FBI, Oakland Police

OAKLAND – It took 11 years and a five-week trial, but a jury of eight women and two men meeting in the Federal Court House here, unanimously decided that the FBI and the Oakland Police Department connived to frame Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney for the 1990 bombing of their car. The federal jury found that the FBI and Oakland Police violated the pair’s constitutional rights to free speech and protection from unlawful searches.

Bari was severely injured in the bombing, suffering a crushed pelvis, and Cherney suffered eye and other injuries. Bari was questioned by the FBI as a suspect in the bombing as she lay in a hospital bed. She later died from breast cancer, but was in constant pain from her injuries in the blast.

Bari and Cherney were environmentalist activists in the fight to save California forest lands from destruction by logging interests. They were leaders of the group Earth First! and were on their way to speak at a rally to promote Redwood Summer when a bomb planted under the driver’s seat of their car exploded.

The FBI and Oakland Police immediately accused them of having made the bomb, which their accusers said had gone off by accident. FBI investigators and the agency’s crime lab said that round-head nails used in the bomb were the same as flat-headed nails used by Bari in her carpentry job.

FBI and Oakland Police refused to investigate leads provided by Bari and Cherney as to possible perpetrators of the bomb attack, and focused entirely on the victims as the “guilty” parties.

The jury, which took 18 days of deliberations to reach its verdict, concluded otherwise, and found six of seven FBI and Oakland Police guilty of violating the civil rights of Bari and Cherney, and levied fines of $2.9 million in punitive and compensatory damages for Bari’s estate, and $1.5 million to Cherney.

Cherney was cheered by the verdict, saying, “The American public needs to understand that the FBI cannot be trusted. Ten jurors got a good hard look at the FBI and they didn’t like what they saw.”

However, Cherney is still angry that he and Bari have never been cleared of the charges against them nor were they ever given a government apology such as was given to an Atlanta security guard who was falsely accused of a bombing during the 1996 Olympics. Federal attorneys and the city of Oakland are considering an appeal of the verdict to the California Appeals Court.

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org