ST. LOUIS — Two St. Louis members of the New Black Panther Party pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges that they planned a bomb attack targeting the Ferguson police chief and other officials following the killing there last summer of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer.
Brandon Orlando Baldwin, 24, and Olajuwon Davis, 23, pleaded guilty separately to four felony counts that include conspiring to use explosives and making false written statements while buying firearms. As part of a deal with prosecutors, the St. Louis men agree to spend a total of seven years in prison.
Their November arrests during a federal sting operation came just days before St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced a grand jury wouldn’t indict Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown, who was unarmed.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Davis and Baldwin admitted they plotted last September through Nov. 21 to obtain explosives they planned to use against McCulloch, then-Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, an unspecified area police station and an armored vehicle police used in controlling Ferguson protests.
Authorities and an April indictment never publicly specified the supposed targets of the bomb plot until federal prosecutor Kenneth Tihen cited them in court Tuesday.
Tihen said Davis and Baldwin were taken into custody after buying three pipe bombs for $150, unaware the devices weren’t functional and the seller during the nighttime meeting at an industrial park was a federal agent.
No explosives were ever detonated, and none of the would-be targets were harmed.
Tihen said Baldwin and Davis previously had managed to illegally buy, at a Cabela’s sporting goods store where Baldwin worked, three handguns for two convicted felons who secretly were working with federal agents, instructing those buyers to sell the firearms on the street for profit.
Brown’s death led to riots and protests in predominantly black Ferguson that soon spread elsewhere in the St. Louis region and beyond, spawning a national “Black Lives Matter” movement seeking changes in how police deal with minorities.
Those protests were rekindled with McCulloch’s announcement that a grand jury his office convened opted against indicting Wilson in Brown’s death, setting off a night of looting and arson fires in and near Ferguson.
The arrests of Davis and Baldwin, who authorities had said were members of the New Black Panther Party’s St. Louis chapter, “prevented their alleged plot to carry out violent acts during the protests in Ferguson,” William Woods, overseer of the FBI’s St. Louis office, has said.
The New Black Panthers had initially called the claims in the indictment “totally unfounded,” and a statement from the organization said it tells members to avoid violence “unless in imminent danger according to the rules of Self-Defense,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Davis and Baldwin have been jailed since their arrests, and on Tuesday they each appeared in court shackled at the wrists and ankles while wearing orange jail jumpsuits.
Baldwin told the judge his education included two years of college studies of criminal and juvenile justice, while Davis said he has spent three years at the University of Missouri at Kansas City majoring in economics.
The two men will be sentenced August 31.