The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility has begun an official inquiry into the dismissal in May of a civil complaint against the New Black Panther Party and two of its members who disrupted a Philadelphia polling place during the November general elections.
The inquiry is disclosed in an Aug. 28 letter to Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee who first raised questions about the dismissal in May and asked unsuccessfully that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. make available the head of the department’s Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division for a closed-door briefing on the decision.
In the letter, Mary Patrice Brown, acting OPR counsel, told the veteran congressman from Texas that the office had “initiated an inquiry into the matter” and that it would “contact you with the results of our inquiry once it is completed.” A copy of the letter was obtained by The Washington Times.
“I am pleased that someone at the Justice Department is finally taking the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party case seriously,” Mr. Smith said Wednesday. “The Justice Department’s decision to drop a case against political allies who allegedly intimidated voters on Election Day 2008 reeks of political interference.”
Mr. Smith said the department’s refusal to provide Congress with an explanation for the dismissal “only further raises concerns that political favoritism played a role in this case.”
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican and a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, has unsuccessfully sought to interview the career lawyers involved in the case and has called on Mr. Holder to refile the civil complaint. He said he was “deeply troubled” by the dismissal, adding that “this stinks to high heaven.”
“After months of unanswered questions, incomplete and faulty excuses, and revelations of political influence, the Office of Professional Responsibility has agreed with our July 9 letter asking for a full investigation of the dismissal of this important voter intimidation case over the objections of both the career attorneys on the trial team and the department’s own appellate board,” he said Wednesday.
OPR, which reports directly to the attorney general, is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct involving department attorneys in the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate or provide legal advice.
A Justice Department memo shows that the front-line career lawyers who brought the case decided as early as December to seek a complaint against the party; its chairman, Malik Zulu Shabazz, a lawyer and D.C. resident; Minister King Samir Shabazz, a resident of Philadelphia and head of the Philadelphia chapter who was accused of wielding the nightstick; and Jerry Jackson, a resident of Philadelphia and a party member.
Witnesses said Mr. Samir Shabazz, armed with the nightstick, and Mr. Jackson used racial slurs and made threats as they stood outside the polling place door.
Mr. Jackson was an elected member of Philadelphia’s 14th Ward Democratic Committee and was credentialed to be at the polling place as an official Democratic Party polling watcher, according to the Philadelphia city commissioner’s office. Records show he obtained new credentials as a poll watcher “at any ward/division in Philadelphia” just days after the charges against him were dismissed.
None of the New Black Panthers responded to the charges or made any appearance in court. The party has not returned e-mails for comment, and the voice mailbox at its Washington headquarters Wednesday was full.
Loretta King, who was acting assistant attorney general, ordered the delay after she discussed with Mr. Perrelli concerns about the case during one of their regular review meetings, according to the interviews. Mrs. King, a career senior executive service official, had been named by President Obama in January to temporarily fill the vacant political position of assistant attorney general for civil rights while a permanent choice could be made.
She and other career supervisors ultimately recommended dropping the case against two of the men and the party. Mr. Perrelli approved that plan, officials said.
[Editors Note: Other stories on the New Black Panther Party’s intimidation of voters are listed here.]