Geronimo Pratt

Geronimo Pratt bigraphy, stories - political activist

Geronimo Pratt : biography

13 September 1947 – June 2, 2011

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.", the partially redacted COINTELPRO file on Geronimo Pratt 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. He died of a heart attack in his adopted country, Tanzania, on June 3, 2011.

Later years

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.


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 charges

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 Black Panther and police informant, 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. Despite this, he was convicted in 1972. Journalist and author Jack Olsen reported that FBI "moles" had infiltrated defense sessions and monitored Cochran’s phone calls.Jack Olsen, Description of book. Retrieved June 4, 2011

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. Paul Wolf, Attorney at Law. Retrieved June 4, 2011

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. republished from Jet (May 15, 2000). Retrieved June 4, 2011

Early years

Elmer Pratt was born in Morgan City, Louisiana, where his father was in the scrap metal business. Pratt was a high school quarterback who 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.Douglas Martin, The New York Times (June 3, 2011). Retrieved June 4, 2011.Robert J. Lopez, LA Times (June 3, 2011). Retrieved June 5, 2011. 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.Edward J. Boyer, The Los Angeles Times (May 24, 1994). Retrieved June 4, 2011. When Pratt joined the Black Panthers, his years in the army proved useful. He rose to be Minister of Defense of the local organization, after two of its officers were killed. 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."Slaying May Herald Panther Showdown". The Los Angeles Times (November 13, 1971).Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther, p. 444.

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."