What to Know
- Leonard Peltier was convicted of killing two FBI agents in 1975 and received two life sentences.
- His supporters advocate for his clemency, accusing prosecutors of coercing witness statements and withholding evidence.
- AU removed the statue of Peltier installed in December after a request from the FBI Agents Association.
American University removed a controversial statue from its campus in northwest Washington, D.C., Tuesday afternoon.
The 9-foot-tall mostly wooden statue depicts Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of murdering FBI agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams in South Dakota in 1975.
In prison for 41 years now, he's appealed his case more than a dozen times, including twice to the U.S. Supreme Court, but his conviction has always been upheld.
FBI Agents Association President Thomas O'Connor, who called for the statue to be removed, saw it as a slap in the face.
“First amendment, the idea that someone can put a piece of artwork up there, completely agree with it, 100 percent,” he said. “It's just the idea that these types of things -- there are victims, there are families of the victims.”
He knows some of those victims himself, and Tuesday he honored Williams and Coler.
“This really is not the year to come out and say that we think someone who ambushed two FBI agents should be given a statue as a piece of artwork,” he said.
American University said the statue wasn't meant to make a statement, and the university's Katzen Arts Center simply displayed it as it would any other piece of art.
The university released a statement saying, in part, "The nature and location of the piece called into question our ability to honor our responsibilities to ensure the security of the art and the safety of our community.”
“We fully agree with First Amendment rights to free speech, to showing this piece of artwork, we just don't think it should be in a public space,” O’Connor said.
Peltier’s supporters accuse prosecutors of coercing witness statements and withholding evidence favorable to Peltier. They want President Barack Obama to pardon him.
Agents Coler and Williams took on fire when they attempted to pull over a vehicle as they searched for a suspect, the Times reported. Peltier has admitted firing on the agents but maintains someone else fired the close-range, execution-style shots that killed them.
Coler’s gun was found in a vehicle Peltier was traveling in after he was pulled over by a state trooper in Oregon months after the agents were killed, the Times reported. He was sentenced to two life sentences.