The former head of the Black Panther Party, Elaine Brown has filed a remarkable lawsuit against Kathleen Cleaver, ex-wife of the late Panthers spokesman Eldridge Cleaver.
Brown is alleging various torts including defamation after Cleaver allegedly spread around a rumor that Brown was a snitch for the FBI. Brown led the Black Panther Party from 1974 to 1977. She is now seeking the nomination for president with the Green Party.
In her lawsuit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court on Dec. 3, Brown accuses Cleaver of telling another Black Panther that “she would never support Ms. Brown because she was an FBI informant.”
Kathleen Cleaver, who was a prominent Panther Party member herself, is now a senior lecturer at the Emory University School of Law. Brown filed a copy of an e-mail allegedly from Cleaver’s son-in-law accusing Brown of instigating the shooting deaths of two Black Panther members, then falsifying her testimony at the resulting murder trial. As a political activist, Brown alleges that such allegations destroy her ability to make a living and her standing in her community.
Any publication of false statements to a third person can be actionable. This is a first where an allegation of cooperating with the government is treated as defamatory. However, the allegations also suggest involvement in criminal acts and cover-up by Brown, which would fall within per se categories of defamation. Moreover, if made, such specific factual statements would not be easily dismissed as opinion if they suggest personal knowledge or a factual basis. This could be very interesting if it goes to trial.
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