By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Noel, Reagan and other law-enforcement officials interviewed for this story still hope that the Park station case will one day bring a reckoning for the Weathermen. But the specter of the Vietnam era’s radical legacy should be summoned with care, as another prominent cold case from the same period illustrates.
In 2007, the California Attorney General’s Office filed charges against eight alleged former Black Liberation Army radicals — Bottom among them — for the attack on Ingleside Police Station and the 1971 murder of San Francisco Police Sgt. John Young. The same Phoenix Task Force that reopened the Park station investigation was responsible for building the case on the Ingleside attack.
After lengthy litigation and an outcry from liberal activists over the belated prosecution, charges against five of the defendants were dropped. An additional two, including Bottom, pleaded guilty to lesser charges and received probation — hardly a meaningful punishment for someone serving a life sentence. Charges against the eighth and last defendant have yet to be resolved, but by most accounts, the case has been a huge disappointment for cold-case investigators and a humiliation for the state attorney general’s office.
According to San Francisco defense attorney Hanlon, who represented one of the Ingleside defendants, the documentation he’s seen on Park station doesn’t bode for better results. “I’ve looked at probably 90 percent of the evidence,” he said, explaining that much of it was available to Ingleside defense attorneys because of the BLA’s possible connection to the bombing. “They have no case, and that’s why they have no prosecution. They have enough snitches. They just don’t have any evidence.”
Investigators privately acknowledge that, as time passes, a conviction seems more improbable. Steen, one of the two former radicals who described to the FBI the Weather Underground’s alleged planning of the Park station bombing, apparently became a drifter. It is unclear whether he would still be a competent witness. A 2002 SFPD bulletin seeking him as a witness in a criminal conspiracy investigation states that he was “transient,” last encountered by police during a 2000 arrest for squatting in Golden Gate Park. Steen could not be reached by Village Voice Media for comment.
Latimer, who would likely have been a star witness for the prosecution, died several years ago, according to Reagan. During his brief return to the Park station case in 2000, Reagan said, he re-established contact with Latimer, whom he had known during his years as an undercover agent in the 1970s. Speaking to her again after the intervening decades, he found her deeply frustrated that her decision to cooperate with law enforcement so many years ago had been of little consequence.
“She was looking for a form of justice, and she was totally disappointed that there wasn’t enough to prosecute,” he said. “To her, it was a reality. She was there, and she heard them talking about doing this.”
But the Weathermen, fugitives for the better part of a decade, haven’t lost their knack for evading the scrutiny of the law. At a preliminary hearing earlier this year in the failed Ingleside murder case, Dohrn, in a gesture of solidarity among aging radicals, traveled from Chicago to San Francisco to stand with the defendants’ supporters in the courtroom. Engler, head of the Phoenix Task Force, was also present. He recognized and approached her, according to law-enforcement sources who described the scene. Engler introduced himself to Dohrn as a San Francisco homicide detective and said he would like to speak with her after the hearing. She greeted him politely but was noncommittal, and left without giving him a chance to interview her when the courtroom session ended. Thirty-nine years after Park station was bombed, police are still looking for a break. And once again, Bernardine Dohrn had disappeared.