September 13, 1947
Morgan City, Louisiana
|Died||June 2, 2011
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Other names||Geronimo Ji-Jaga Pratt, Geronimo Ji Jaga|
|Education||UCLA, Sumpter Williams High School (Morgan City, Louisiana)|
|Occupation||Deputy Minister of Defense of the Southern California Chapter of the Black Panther Party|
|Known for||Spending 27 years in prison|
|Home town||Morgan City, Louisiana|
|Political party||Black Panther Party|
|Criminal penalty||27 years in prison|
|Criminal status||Released (conviction vacated)|
Geronimo Pratt (born Elmer Pratt, September 13, 1947 – June 2, 2011), also known as Geronimo Ji-Jaga and Geronimo Ji-Jaga Pratt, was a high-ranking member of the Black Panther Party.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation targeted him in a COINTELPRO operation, which aimed to "neutralize Pratt as an effective BPP functionary." Pratt was tried and convicted of the kidnap and murder of Caroline Olsen in 1972, and spent 27 years in prison, eight of which were in solitary confinement. Pratt was freed in 1997 when his conviction was vacated. He was working as a human rights activist up until the time of his death. Pratt was also the godfather of the late rapper Tupac Shakur.
Elmer Pratt was born in Morgan City, Louisiana, where his father was in the scrap metal business. Pratt was a star quarterback at Sumpter Williams High School and later served two combat tours as a soldier in the Vietnam War, reaching the rank of sergeant and earning two Bronze Stars, a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. He later moved to Los Angeles.
After he served his two tours, Pratt studied political science at UCLA, using a grant provided by the GI Bill. Pratt was recruited into the Panthers by Bunchy Carter and John Huggins. When Pratt joined the Black Panthers, his years in the army proved useful. He rose to become Deputy Minister of Defense of the local organization, after Bunchy Carter and John Huggins were killed by COINTELPRO infiltrators in the Us Organization. In 1971, Geronimo Ji Jaga's wife Saundra was killed while 8 months pregnant and left in a ditch. The murder was blamed on a Party schism between supporters of Huey Newton and those of Eldridge Cleaver, with Geronimo Ji Jaga and his wife belonging to the Cleaver faction. Geronimo later understood this to be an F.B.I. lie. Saundra's murder was unrelated to the Black Panther Party.
By January 1970, the Los Angeles FBI office had sought permission from headquarters for a counterintelligence effort "designed to challenge the legitimacy of the authority exercised" by Pratt in the local Panthers. Another FBI memo dated five months later noted that the Bureau was constantly considering counterintelligence measures designed to neutralize Pratt "as an effective (Panther) functionary."
In 1968, Caroline Olsen, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher, was murdered by gunshot during a robbery on a Santa Monica tennis court. Olsen's husband, Kenneth, who was also shot but survived, identified Pratt as the killer. Julius Butler, a police informant infiltrator in the Black Panther Party, testified that Pratt had confessed to him, and discussed the murder with him on several occasions. In 1970, Geronimo Ji Jaga was arrested and charged with murder and kidnapping.
His attorney, Johnnie Cochran, argued that the charges should be dropped, alleging that Geronimo Ji Jaga had been 350 miles away on the night of the murder. He was convicted in 1972. Journalist and author Jack Olsen reported that FBI "moles" had infiltrated defense sessions and monitored Cochran’s phone calls.
During Pratt's incarceration, he studied law and built a defense. He was represented by attorneys Stuart Hanlon and Johnnie Cochran in his original trial. Together with William Paparian, Hanlon worked on the appeals that later led to Pratt's conviction being vacated.
Murder conviction vacated
Geronimo Ji Jaga's conviction was vacated on June 10, 1997, on the grounds that the prosecution had concealed evidence that might have influenced the jury's verdict. The prosecution had not disclosed the extent to which a key witness against Pratt, Julius Butler, provided information to the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department. An appeals court ruled this fact to be "'favorable' to the defendant, 'suppressed' by a law enforcement agency, and 'material' to the jury's decision to convict" in 1999 and upheld the decision, freeing him.
On July 24, 1997, after being released from prison, Pratt rushed back to his hometown of Morgan City, LA, to see his aged mother, Eunice, whom he had not seen in 23 years since she rode a bus to visit him at Folsom Prison.
Geronimo Ji Jaga eventually received $4.5 million as settlement for false imprisonment. A federal judge approved the settlement of the civil suit: the city of L.A. paid $2.75 million of the settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice paying the $1.75 million remainder.
Geronimo Ji Jaga continued to work on behalf of men and women believed to be wrongfully incarcerated until his death, including participation in rallies in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal, whom he had met when both were active as Black Panthers.
Geronimo Ji Jaga was living in Tanzania at the time of his death.
- LA 157-3436, the partially redacted COINTELPRO file on Geronimo Pratt
- Jigsaw (September 18, 2003). "Geronimo Ji Jaga: Soulja’s Story Pt 1". allhiphop.com. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
- Erica Henry (June 3, 2011). "Former Black Panther Elmer 'Geronimo' Pratt dies, attorney says". CNN. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
- Douglas Martin, "Elmer G. Pratt, Jailed Panther Leader, Dies at 63" The New York Times (June 3, 2011). Retrieved June 4, 2011.
- Robert J. Lopez, Geronimo Ji Jaga dies at 63; former Black Panther whose murder conviction was overturned LA Times (June 3, 2011). Retrieved June 5, 2011.
- Edward J. Boyer, "Past Haunts Ex-Panther in New Life : Julius Butler's testimony helped convict Geronimo Pratt of murder. Now, the First A.M.E. Church official's prominence upsets some who say Butler was an FBI informant—a claim he denies." The Los Angeles Times (May 24, 1994). Retrieved June 4, 2011.
- "Slaying May Herald Panther Showdown". The Los Angeles Times (November 13, 1971).
- Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther, p. 444.
- Jack Olsen, "Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt" Description of book. Retrieved June 4, 2011
- In re Pratt, 82 Cal.Rptr.2d 260 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.1999)" Retrieved July 22, 2014
- "Tears of Joy Flow as Pratt Is Reunited With Mother". Los Angeles Times. June 15, 1997.
- Olsen, Jack. Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (2000) ISBN 0-385-49367-3