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Activist gets 4-year term for bribery

Police critic Najee Ali pleaded guilty to trying to bribe a witness in a court case involving his daughter.

August 19, 2008|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

Najee Ali, known as an outspoken critic of law enforcement, was sentenced to four years in state prison Monday after pleading guilty to trying to bribe a witness in his daughter's criminal case.

The 45-year-old former gang member turned community activist tried to tamper with a witness in January outside his daughter's preliminary hearing in Alhambra, said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

He was charged March 11 with attempting to intimidate and bribe a witness. But prosecutors later dismissed the intimidation charge.

Jasmin Eskew, Ali's daughter, is awaiting trial on two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of leaving the scene of an accident stemming from an incident in July 2007 involving her vehicle and a group of motorcyclists on the San Bernardino Freeway, Gibbons said.

Ali would have received two years in prison, but a prior robbery conviction in 1992 doubled his time to four years, Gibbons said. The judge also found that Ali had violated his probation in a 2004 case in which he was convicted of felony hit-and-run and perjury.

"Mr. Ali has still not paid $29,240 in restitution in that case," Gibbons said.

Some of Ali's fellow activists said Monday they were stunned by the news and the length of his sentence.

"I'm shocked. I knew he would get some prison time. But I didn't expect it to be that harsh," said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst who heads the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. "He was the most visible, outspoken voice of community activism in L.A. . . . I had my differences with him, but I respected him."

But others said they were not surprised by Ali's fate.

"Najee Ali had been on the wrong side of the law pretty consistently," said Bernard C. Parks Jr., chief of staff for Councilman Bernard C. Parks, the former Los Angeles Police Department chief. "He had the hit-and-run and now this. It all finally caught up with him, and it is going to cost him four years of his life."

Ali, born Ronald Todd Eskew, spent two years in prison for armed robbery before coming to prominence in 1998 when he led public protests over the case of Sherrice Iverson, a 7-year-old girl from South Central Los Angeles who was sexually attacked and strangled in a Nevada casino bathroom. He became an activist who transcended convention, protesting pornography in a Snoop Dogg video, urging blacks to work with police and speaking out on behalf of crime victims of every race.

But Ali's problems with the law continued.

In 2004, he was sentenced to five years' probation and 1,000 hours of community service after he left the scene of a car accident. After his vehicle collided with another at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King boulevards, he fled into a nearby movie theater.

At the time, he was free on bail on charges of identity theft.

Ali initially fought the charges in both cases but said he decided to plead guilty to hit-and-run, and to perjury in the identity theft case, because he couldn't afford attorney fees.

"I'm remorseful, but I don't think my actions were criminal," he said at the time. "If I'm guilty of anything, it's using poor judgment."

Ali splits his time between an apartment in Baldwin Hills and a home in Chicago, where he lives with his wife, Ngzina Muhammad, the granddaughter of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad. Ali's organization, Project Islamic Hope, is funded by private benefactors, he says.

He was an outspoken critic of the LAPD after the televised beating of car-chase suspect Stanley Miller in 2004, prompting a sharp rebuke from Police Chief William J. Bratton.

During a CNN appearance, Bratton called Ali "one of the biggest nitwits in Los Angeles" while scolding the interviewer, to whom he said, "You need to check out the credentials . . . of some of these people that you choose."

Bratton later apologized for his remarks. The same day, then-Mayor James K. Hahn named Ali to a citizens commission formed to examine the Miller beating. Ali resigned when city officials expressed doubts about whether he should serve because he was awaiting trial on charges in the hit-and-run.

Ali has feuded with other activists and civic leaders. In 2006, he persuaded a Superior Court judge to issue a temporary restraining order against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), accusing the congresswoman of threatening him. In turn, Waters accused Ali of stalking her and got a temporary restraining order against him.

Despite such episodes, Ali often accompanied the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson when they came to Southern California to draw attention to local civil rights issues.

The Rev. K.W. Tulloss of Sharpton's National Action Network declined to comment on Ali's conviction, saying only that "he will be missed."

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richard.winton@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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