Joanne Chesimard, who killed a New Jersey cop 40 years ago Thursday, then escaped prison and fled to Cuba, has been labeled a terrorist and had a $2 million bounty put on her by the FBI, authorities said.
Chesimard was serving a life term for killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973 when she escaped prison. After hiding out in a New Jersey safe house for several years, Chesimard managed to flee in 1979 to Cuba, where she has been living for decades under the name Assata Shakur.
"Chesimard has been given the pulpit to preach and profess, stirring supporters to mobolize against the United States with any means possible," said Col. Rick Fuentes, NJ State Police.
"Joanne Chesimard is a domestic terrorist," Aaron T. Ford, special agent in charge of the FBI's Newark division, said at a press conference Thursday. "She absolutely is a threat to America."
Chesimard, a member of the radical Black Liberation Army, shot and killed New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster execution-style on May 2, 1973, after she and two others were pulled over for a routine traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, about an hour south of New York City.
Chesimard, 26 at the time, was already known by the FBI for her involvement in the Black Panther movement. She had changed her name to Shakur and was now a leader of the Black Liberation Army — one of the most violent militant black organizations of the 1970s. She was wanted in connection with a string of felonies, including bank robberies in New York.
After being pulled over by the troopers, Chesimard, who was in the passenger seat, pulled out her semi-automatic pistol and fired the first shot. The passenger in the rear seat, James Coston, then fired multiple shots before he was killed by trooper James Harper. As Harper sought cover, Chesimard stepped out of the car and continuously fired at both him and Foerster, who was engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Clark Squire, the driver.
Foerster was shot in the abdomen and right arm. According to police accounts, Chesimard picked up Foerster's gun and put two bullets in his head, execution-style, as he lay along the side of the turnpike. Authorities say her jammed handgun was found next to Foerster's body.
Chesimard, Coston and Squire fled and abandoned their car 5 miles down the road. It didn't take long for police to locate the car and Coston, who was found dead near the vehicle. A half-hour after the shooting, state police arrested Chesimard. Squire was arrested a mile from the car about 40 hours after the incident.
Chesimard denied that she shot at anyone and claimed that the militant and cop-killer labels made her a target. But four years later, she was convicted of first-degree murder, assault and battery of a police officer, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, illegal possession of a weapon and armed robbery.
On Nov. 2, 1979, Chesimard escaped from prison in New Jersey. Police believe a group of black and white domestic terrorists approached Chesimard while at a maximum security prison in West Virginia, but waited until she was transferred to a minimum security prison in New Jersey before plotting the escape.
Three members of the group who were visiting Chesimard ordered a corrections officer at gunpoint to open three gates that eventually led out of the prison. They escaped in a jail van.
WANTED BY THE FBI
JOANNE DEBORAH CHESIMARD
Act of Terrorism - Domestic Terrorism; Unlawful Flight to Avoid Confinement - Murder
REWARD: The FBI is offering a reward of up to $1,000,000 for information directly leading to the apprehension of Joanne Chesimard.
Joanne Chesimard is wanted for escaping from prison in Clinton, New Jersey, while serving a life sentence for murder. On May 2, 1973, Chesimard, who was part of a revolutionary extremist organization known as the Black Liberation Army, and two accomplices were stopped for a motor vehicle violation on the New Jersey Turnpike by two troopers with the New Jersey State Police. At the time, Chesimard was wanted for her involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery. Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One trooper was wounded and the other was shot and killed execution-style at point-blank range. Chesimard fled the scene, but was subsequently apprehended. One of her accomplices was killed in the shoot-out and the other was also apprehended and remains in jail.
In 1977, Chesimard was found guilty of first degree murder, assault and battery of a police officer, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to kill, illegal possession of a weapon, and armed robbery. She was sentenced to life in prison. On November 2, 1979, Chesimard escaped from prison and lived underground before being located in Cuba in 1984. She is thought to currently still be living in Cuba.
She may wear her hair in a variety of styles and dress in African tribal clothing.
She should be considered armed and dangerous.
If you have any information concerning this person, please call the FBI Toll-Free tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324). You may also contact your local FBI office, or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate.