“We have always heard that justice delayed is justice denied. It has been 40 years, but the fact that we are making progress in Milton’s death is giving us new hope.” MARYAM BENNETT, Milton Scott’s daughter
Milton Leon Scott, then a 21-year-old father and a former laborer for the LSU Athletic Department, thought he was being followed in the summer 1973 — but didn’t know by whom or why.
FBI agents Delbert Hahn and Bill Wood did know. They were keeping tabs on Scott, who was suspected of deserting from the U.S. Army.
On July 18, 1973, the two federal agents moved in. Their attempt to arrest Scott at his Alaska Street home escalated as Scott — depending on the version — either tried to fight and escape or was dragged from his house by the agents.
Scott was shot and killed during the scuffle in what turned out, by all accounts, to be a case of mistaken identity.
Forty years later, his family is still talking about seeking justice.
FBI files recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Manship News Service at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication reveal new details of the shooting, mostly showing the FBI perspective, not made public in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
The killing occurred in an era when racial tensions ran high and often erupted into violence. A year and a half before Hahn and Wood showed up at Scott’s doorstep, race riots in Baton Rouge on Jan. 10, 1972, claimed the lives of five people, including two sheriff’s deputies. Thirty-one people were injured, some grievously.
Scott was under surveillance by the FBI, which had intelligence that he may have attended one meeting with the Black Muslim movement in Baton Rouge. Hahn was among the agents assigned to investigate the Black Muslim presence in the riots.
By 1973, Scott was employed to sell copies of “Muhammad Speaks,” a national publication for the Nation of Islam, a group at the time commonly called the Black Muslims. Scott told his wife he noticed he was being watched by two white guys as he went from corner to corner selling the papers.
After completing his route on July 18, Scott returned home to his 2-year-old daughter and his wife, Beverly, who was pregnant with their second child. Around 11:15 a.m., Hahn and Wood knocked on Scott’s front door.
According to FBI files, the Los Angeles FBI field office had requested an investigation of Scott, who was traced to Baton Rouge. Agents from the New Orleans office had been advised that Scott deserted from Fort Ord, Calif., on Oct. 24, 1972.
The FBI warrant described Scott as a black male, born Feb. 17, 1952, standing 5 feet 10 inches and weighing 165 pounds. Information on Scott was sent to the FBI New Orleans Field Office on June 28, 1973, and the case assigned to Hahn. The attempt to arrest Scott occurred three weeks later.
Records and a later interview the FBI conducted with Edwin Davis Jr., then the assistant manager of business for the LSU Athletic Department, indicated Scott neither deserted nor even had enlisted in the Army. Scott, said Davis, was employed by the Athletic Department from Aug. 3, 1971, to Nov. 26, 1972, which encompassed the time he was alleged to have deserted from Fort Ord.
On July 19, 1973, one day after Scott’s death, the FBI in California interviewed another man, Calvin Henry Wallace, in San Quentin State Penitentiary. Wallace had used numerous aliases — including Milton Scott — and fake identification documents in his criminal activities.
Wallace told the FBI he met Scott in San Francisco in 1970 in a “shooting gallery” for drug users. Wallace said he spent a total of about two months with Scott on and off before going to San Diego. Wallace said the last time he saw or heard from Scott was early 1972.
Wallace told the FBI he collected enough personal and background information from Scott to obtain a fake driver’s license, Social Security card and birth certificate in the name Milton Leon Scott.
Wallace said he used Scott’s identity to enlist in the Army in April 1972 in an attempt to escape the authorities and break his drug habit. Wallace, who was prosecuted in 1973 for his fraudulent enlistment in the military service, said Scott did not know of the identity theft.
The agents’ story
On the day agents Hahn and Wood knocked on Scott’s door at 2618 Alaska St., they believed Scott was a deserter. His identification and information matched the description provided by the Los Angeles FBI.
Hahn said in a statement to his superiors the day after the killing that the brass nameplate on the door of the shotgun-style home read “Milton X,” a possible indication of Scott’s ties to the Black Muslim community.
When Scott opened door and answered to his name, the agents identified themselves. Scott then slammed the door shut.
Hahn and Wood gave the following account of the killing:
Hahn kicked the door and Wood drew his service revolver and also kicked at the door, which gave about 2 inches. Scott was holding it closed, shouting about “white devils” and “Allah teaches.”
After Wood kicked the door a second time, it flew open and Scott leaped out of the house and struck Wood in the face. Scott charged into Wood, screaming “Allahu akbar.” God is great.
Wood, with his revolver in his right hand, tried to knock Scott off balance, but Scott grabbed at his face. Wood believed Scott was trying to take his gun while attempting to gouge out his eye.
Hahn, who had a .38-caliber, snub-nosed revolver in his hand, was standing about 2 feet from Wood and Scott. Hahn hit Scott once on the head with his gun.
Hahn said he thought Scott had Wood’s gun in his hand. Wood also said he saw something in Scott’s right hand. Scott lunged at Hahn, and before Wood could get to his feet, Hahn fired two shots at Scott’s midsection.
The agents claimed Scott landed on Hahn’s head and shoulders and continued to fight, getting hold of Hahn’s slapstick, a lead-filled rubber billy club also known as a blackjack.
During the struggle, Wood said, Scott yelled, “Muhammad teaches” and “white devils will or must die.” Scott skidded to the sidewalk. As he tried to stand, Wood pinned his arms behind his back. Scott ceased to struggle after 30 to 45 seconds, blood spreading on the cement. Wood said he took the slapstick from Scott’s hand.
Hahn went to the car and radioed they had been in a shooting and requested an ambulance. He also asked police for assistance as a crowd was gathering.
Both agents were taken to a hospital emergency room, where Hahn was treated for abrasions on the left side of his face and Wood for abrasions to his left eye and left hand. They were released within two hours. Authorities had interviewed several witnesses, including a neighbor and sanitation workers, but few had meaningful details to contribute. Most said they left the scene when they noticed trouble.
The widow’s story
In an interview late last year with the LSU Manship News Service, Beverly Scott, who since remarried and now goes by the name Beverly Shabazz, said the two agents, whom she described as both taller than 6 feet and weighing more than 200 pounds, dragged her husband, unarmed and barefoot, out of his home and onto the driveway.
Shabazz said her husband was yelling at the agents, telling them they had the wrong man. During the scuffle, she said, her husband was hit in the head with the agents’ blackjacks before being shot twice, once while he was on the ground and incapacitated, despite his protests that he had never been in the Army.
Shabazz said she came out of the house as Scott was yelling at the agents. After her husband was shot, she ran to him and rubbed his head and screamed that Wood had killed her husband. Shabazz alleges the agents threatened to do the same to her and her daughter if they did not keep back.
“About an hour or so later, someone called to let me know it was a mistake,” Shabazz said. “They had killed the wrong man; he was not the person they were looking for.”
Two days after Scott’s death, the FBI acknowledged he was not the person who deserted. Wood and Hahn appeared before a grand jury in 1973 but were not charged in the incident.
Hahn left the bureau 12 years later and opened a private investigation business in Baton Rouge, where he still resides. He declined to comment for this article.
Wood, who served in the FBI from 1966 to 1997, moving to Rapid City, S.D., from 1975 to 1992, could not be located for comment.
Shabazz, who still lives in Baton Rouge, says she hired five lawyers at different times to look into her late husband’s killing. Her second daughter, Maryam Bennett, who had not been born at the time of the incident, says they are planning to file a civil suit based on the information in the FBI files.
Shabazz says she also plans to file a complaint in federal court against the FBI in Los Angeles in the near future, based on what she considers is evidence of excessive force in the FBI files.
“We have always heard that justice delayed is justice denied,” Bennett said. “It has been 40 years, but the fact that we are making progress in Milton’s death is giving us new hope.”
Editor’s note: Morgan Searles is a student writer with the LSU Manship News Service. Parker Cramer, formerly with the Manship News Service, contributed to this report.
Clarification: This story was modified on July 18, 2013, to clarify that FBI agent Delbert Hahn left the agency 12 years after the Scott shooting. The original story mischaracterized that length of time as “a few years later.”