A murder charge is dropped against San Francisco black militant Frankie Steele (Thalmus Rasulala), who is represented by liberal attorney Joe Ricco (Dean Martin).
Two police officers are then gunned down. An eyewitness, the young son of a friend of Ricco's, identifies Steele as the man he saw leaving the scene of the crime.
Ricco is a lonely widower. He has a loyal secretary (Cindy Williams) and a dog. His closest friend is George Cronyn (Eugene Roche), the detective in charge of the case. Cronyn is irate that Steele got away with killing a woman, Mary Justin, resulting in the deaths of two of his fellow officers.
Cronyn and his men raid a hideout of Steele's organization, the Black Serpents. But while Steele manages to get away, a racist cop named Tanner kills the unarmed Calvin Mapes and plants a gun on him, then arrests his brother, Purvis Mapes (Philip Michael Thomas).
Their sister, Irene Mapes (Denise Nicholas), who works in an art gallery, asks Ricco if he would be Purvis's lawyer. He agrees and uncovers evidence that Tanner was at fault. In exchange, Ricco persuades Purvis to reveal where the fugitive Frankie Steele can be found.
Irene invites Ricco to the opening of a new art exhibit. Ricco also meets a woman, Katherine (Geraldine Brooks), with whom he becomes romantically involved.
A sniper tries to shoot Ricco in his home. A neighbor, an old woman with poor eyesight, sees a man who once again resembles Steele. After a second attempt on his life, Cronyn assigns a cop named Barrett to tail Ricco wherever he goes. It makes no sense to Ricco, though, that Steele would want to kill his own lawyer.
Ricco shakes the tail because he promised Purvis Mapes not to reveal Steele's whereabouts. He goes to a church and finds Steele, who denies killing the cops but blurts out that he did indeed murder the woman Mary Justin. A fistfight between the two men results, landing Ricco in the hospital.
Regretting that he got a guilty man off, Ricco apologizes to Mary Justin's brother, who doesn't accept it, angrily accusing Ricco of being "an accessory." The racist cop Tanner is then found murdered. Ricco is relieved when Cronyn's men apprehend Steele.
He goes to the black-tie affair at the art gallery, taking Katherine as his date and letting Barrett tag along. A sniper appears and takes aim. He hits Katherine by mistake, then shoots Barrett as well. Ricco grabs the cop's gun and gives chase. The killer wounds more cops before a shot by Ricco drops him. It is clearly Steele, but when the body is examined, it turns out to be Mary Justin's brother wearing a disguise.
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