Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Uninvited Ear

Michigan Legal Milestone Marker

Located in the lobby of the Penobscot Building at Griswold and Fort in downtown Detroit

The late 1960s were years of great ferment in the United States as militant organizations promoted radical change. Lawrence Robert “Pun” Plamondon—an Ottawa and Ojibwa who had been raised by foster parents in Traverse City—moved to Detroit and joined the counter cultural movement than was then centered on Plum Street near Tiger Stadium. By the mid-1960s, he joined with John Sinclair to create the White Panther Party. This organization was not a white power group. Indeed, they strongly supported the Black Panther Party and were endorsed by Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party. The White Panthers believed that the cultural values of the United States were fundamentally flawed since encouraged the denial of liberties to Americans and promoted wars against liberation movements including the then raging war in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the White Panther Party along with the Symboniese Liberation Army and the Black Panther Party were viewed by many as militant or terrorist groups intent upon force to bring down the federal government and what was then called “The Establishment.” Detroit was center for such groups including the Republic of New Africa founded at the Shrine of the Black Madonna. There were quite a number of attracts upon or bombing of federal facilities attributed to militant organizations. For the most part, bombings were conducted so as to kill no one but blowing up an Army research building at the University of Wisconsin resulted in a death. The office of the CIA in Ann Arbor was bombed in 1968. The FBI assumed the White Panther Party was responsible and, in 1969, its founders—Pun Plamondon and John Sinclair, along with John Forrest—were indicted. Plamondon fled the country—as many indicted militants did at this time—but later returned only to be arrested for littering while driving toward the Mackinaw Bridge. By this time, Pun Plamondon was on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list—the first revolutionary to gain that distinction. I believe he was held by the government for almost three years awaiting trial.

Prior to the trial, Pum Plamondon’s Detroit lawyer—Hugh “Buck” Davis—came to believe that the only evidence against his client resulted from FBI wiretaps of his telephone calls; wiretaps that he thought were obtained without warrants. He sought the contents of the federal government’s electronic surveillance in an evidentiary hearing held before Judge Damon Keith in the federal court for the eastern district of Michigan. The government’s lawyer responded by stating that he had no knowledge of such surveillance but would have the Department of Justice look into the matter. Subsequently, Department of Justice attorneys agreed that Pun Plamondon’s telephone had been tapped and offered to share the content with the bench but not with defense lawyers.

This was not satisfactory to the defense. At this point, President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell decided that this was an appropriate opportunity for them to defend the gathering of information from violent terrorists without warrants. A CIA office had been bombed and the FBI was convinced they had arrested the guilty parties. Representing the President and the Attorney General, Department of Justice lawyers argued in the evidentiary hearing that during the late 1960s there were 1523 bombing or attempted bombing by militant or terrorist groups. They contended that since the President and Attorney General had sworn to uphold the Constitution and protect the American public, they had the right and obligation to carry out the electronic surveillance without a warrant.

Judge Damon Keith wrote a terse opinion in which he unambiguously stated that Fourth Amendment and case law prohibited the federal government from conducting electronic surveillance without a court order. Needless to say, President Nixon and Attorney General Mitchell strongly disagreed with Judge Keith’s 1971 decision and appealed his ruling to the United States Supreme Court with the expectation of gaining their approval. The Supreme Court deliberated about this matter and, in June, 1972, came to a unanimous decision upholding Judge Keith’s ruling—the federal government cannot carry out electronic surveillance in the United States unless they first obtain a court order. The Department of Justice, knowing the evidence they gathered about the conspiracy to bomb the CIA office would not be admissible, dropped charges against Pun Plamondon, John Sinclair and John Forrest.

Pun Plamondon played a role in the eventual resignation of President Nixon. The Supreme Court reached their unanimous decision on Friday June 16, 1972 with the intention of announcing it publicly on Monday June 19. Some from the Supreme Court alerted the White House to the forthcoming decision. Prior to this the Committee to Reelect the President had installed bugs at offices of Democrats in the Watergate Building. In view of the impending Supreme Court ruling, someone in the White House—perhaps the President or John Mitchell—called for the removal of those bugs so the espionage group known as the Plumbers was dispatched to Watergate complex that week-end. Their bumbled break-in led to the investigation process that triggered the resignation of President Nixon about two years later.

Governmental pressures and changing values led to the demise of the White Panther Party. Pun Plamondon returned to the rock scene in Detroit and served, for some time, as Bob Seger’s body guard but by the end of the 1970s he suffered from addiction problems. In 1981, he rediscovered his Ottawa racial heritage, and reoriented his life. He became a carpenter in Barry County Michigan where he now resides.

This is a Michigan Legal Milestone Marker—a project of the Michigan Bar Association to commemorate important legal decisions and figures. This location was selected since the library of the Michigan Bar Association was in the Penobscot Building.

Date of Dedication: December 18, 1991.
Use in 2006: Historical Marker
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Registry of Historic Places: Not listed
Citation for Judge Damon Keith’s ruling: 321 F. Supp. 1074 (Eastern district, Michigan, January 26, 1971)
Citation for Supreme Court decision: 407 U. S. 297 (June 19, 1972).
Autobiography of Pun Plamondon: Lost from the Ottawa Tribe: The Story of the Journal Back Self-published in 2004.
Photograph: Ren Farley; February 3, 2006
Description: February 2006

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