SAN FRANCISCO – They'd long since exchanged the radical idealism of their youth for comparatively quiet lives — a janitor, a job counselor, a youth baseball coach. They'd become husbands, fathers and grandfathers.
But memories of a violent era in American history came rushing back this week when eight men with ties to the Black Panther Party were arrested in the 1971 killing of a San Francisco police officer.
Prosecutors say members of the Black Liberation Army, a violent offshoot of the Panthers, stormed the lobby of a police station that August night, firing a shotgun at Sgt. John V. Young through the speaking hole in a glass partition. A civilian clerk was hit in the arm as she ducked for cover behind a file cabinet.
According to prosecutors, Francisco Torres, Herman Bell and Henry Watson Jones staged the attack. John Bowman, Richard Brown and Harold Taylor were the lookouts. Ray Michael Boudreaux and Ronald Bridgeforth were the getaway drivers.
Anthony Bottom was supposed to be part of the attack team, but he was arrested the night before after attempting to fire a machine gun at a police sergeant, prosecutors say.
Bowman died of liver cancer in December, and Bridgeforth is believed to have fled the country.
The seven others were arrested Tuesday on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. An eighth, Richard O'Neal, was charged only with conspiracy.
Investigators say new evidence led to the arrests, but they won't specify what that is. Lawyers for some of the former BLA members say the case is really about revenge.
It isn't the first time their names were tied to Young's death, but six of the eight men had managed to live relatively normal lives in the ensuing 36 years.
Taylor, now 58, moved to Florida where he worked as a utility lineman and lived with his daughter and girlfriend.
Boudreaux, 64, and Jones, 71, moved to Altadena, north of Pasadena, where they live within a mile of each other and remain friends. Boudreaux is an electrician for Los Angeles County; Jones is a real estate appraiser.
Torres, 58, moved to New York City, where he's lived in the same house for 27 years, according to his lawyer, Michael Warren, who called this prosecution "ridiculous." He said his client is married with two sons, is active in his community and coaches youth baseball. He said Torres served in the Army in Vietnam and was disabled by Agent Orange.
Richard Brown, 65, and Richard O'Neal, 57, stayed in San Francisco. Brown worked for nearly 20 years as a job counselor and developer at a community center and O'Neal worked as a custodian for the city.
Bell, 59, and Bottom, 55, were the two exceptions. Both are serving life sentences for killing two New York City police officers during the same violent spree that claimed Young, according to authorities. But both men earned college degrees in prison, and a warden has credited Bottom with helping to prevent riots. Bell, a former scholarship athlete, coaches inmate football teams. Both maintain they were framed by the FBI.
The Young case was reopened in 1999 and 2005 but several members called to testify at grand jury hearings refused to testify both times.
Two years after the killing, Taylor and Bowman were arrested in New Orleans. But a judge dismissed the charges in 1976 because of allegations the men had been tortured by police officers during an interrogation. The duo became anti-torture advocates and vowed to not testify before a grand jury until the officers they accused of beating them were brought to justice.
Two defense lawyers said Wednesday they believe the new charges are retaliation for the former Panthers' torture allegations.
Taylor appeared briefly in court Wednesday by video link from a Panama City, Fla., jail, where he's being held without bail. He said he would fight extradition to California, but does not yet have a lawyer.
Jones' lawyer, John Philipsborn, said he looks forward to defending his client.
Boudreaux's lawyer, Michael Burt, said his client is innocent. "He didn't murder anybody," he said.
Brown's longtime friend, the Rev. Amos Brown, called him a "decent human being," who's been active in his community. The reverend said he visited Richard Brown in jail Tuesday and that Brown declared his innocence.