On February 24 and 25, 2015, the British News Outlet, The Guardian has published major articles about the Chicago police, using their Homan Square facility (formerly a Sears & Roebuck property) to bring those arrested without officially booking them into their computer system so that a lawyer or family member cannot locate someone for many hours. It seems that many defense attorneys who cannot locate their clients through their standard methods within the huge bureaucratic Cook County jail system have figured out that their client is most likely being detained at Homan Square. The police at this particular location have a well earned reputation for holding prisoners for many hours without noting their presence in the system way beyond what is typical at other detention buildings. It has been alleged that the Homan Square police officers are also known for hand cuffing detainees to a pole for extended hours; for not allowing them access to an attorney for hours even after multiple requests; for isolating and interrogating them for hours; for not providing them food and a comfortable place to sleep for hours. Currently, there are judicial officials, well known law professors and others demanding a preliminary investigation.
The 2/24/15 Chicago Sun Times article, “Chicago Police deny report of secret interrogation compound at Homan Square site,” by Frank Main added the following comments:
“The Guardian spoke to several Chicago defense attorneys who said they’d never heard of Homan Square before their clients were taken there. Attorneys have attempted to gain access to the facility, but were “most often turned away even as their clients remain in custody inside.”
“The Guardian also ominously noted that John Hubbard, 44, was found unresponsive in an interview room at Homan Square and pronounced dead on Feb. 2, 2013. The Guardian said the Cook County medical examiner’s office couldn’t locate a record indicating his cause of death.”
“But on Tuesday, the office told the Sun-Times that Hubbard died of an accidental heroin overdose. He was taken into custody after he allegedly bought drugs from an undercover officer, arrest records show.”
Here are some excerpts from a 2/24/15 Daily Kos article by Stephen D.:
“It is outrageous that the federal government operates such “black sites” around the world. That one would exist in a major American city, however, run by that City’s own police department is more than outrageous to me. It’s downright terrifying. Who knows if other police departments around the country have their own Homan Squares where anyone of us could be deprived of our constitutional rights with impunity for any reason, or no reason at all.”
“Just read this story in Salon The Atlantic which gives further details regarding the Homan Square site in an interview of Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project who also wrote a story about this for The Guardian.” Excerpts from the Salon interview follow:
“Tanya Basu: Why was Homan Square unknown for so long?
Tracy Siska: I think it’s because under the law, people have a right to get counsel when arrested or when held but you’re not provided free counsel like a public defender. Mostly who they take to Homan Square are black and brown and poor kids who can’t afford to hire private counsel while they’re in custody. That’s a little nuance in the law that few know about. […]
Basu: Why wasn’t the press covering it?
Siska: I think that many crime reporters in Chicago have political views that are right in line with the police. They tend to agree about the tactics needed by the police. They tend to have by one extent or the other the same racist views of the police—a lot of urban police (not all of them by any stretch, but a lot of them) embody racism. […]
Basu: Going back to the Guantanamo interrogation techniques associated with Homan Square, and just to be clear: These warehouses aren’t interrogating suspected terrorists, correct?
Siska: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. 99 percent of the people from this site are involved in some form of street crime: gang activities, drugs—urban violent crime. That’s what makes the site even worse. It takes Guantanamo-style tactics on urban street criminals and shreds the Bill of Rights.”
“Basu: To clarify: What do “Guantanamo-style” tactics entail?
Siska: Isolation, deprivation of food, other outside contact. It’s meant to be a lot of touchless torture. So they’re not touching you, which in the human-rights field is more powerful and scary because it doesn’t leave marks but leaves huge internal wounds. Most of the time, people aren’t physically abused. They’re cut off from society, not allowed phone calls, not fed as much. These are just tactics that are more sophisticated in urban-policing tactics.
Siska claims the Homan square site opened around 2006 – 2007 and there may be other, similar sites in Chicago or elsewhere. She argues that local media in Chicago failed to cover this story, despite it being common knowledge in the “police accountability community,” because most of the people detained there are minorities, African-Americas and Latinos who were picked up by units specializing in street crime, gang and drug related activities.
It seems that none of this would have become a national story except for the fact that three young white males – including Jacob Church who spoke on the record to Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian – were taken to Homan Square. Undercover cops infiltrated groups planning to protest the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, and brought a case against Church and two others for terrorism that the defense attorneys of those men claim amounted to entrapment. At trial the defendants were found not guilty of the terrorism charge but convicted of lesser offenses.”
Here are excerpts from a 2/25/15 NY Daily News article by Rachelle Blidner:
“Chicago police disputed The Guardian’s “offensive” allegations of wrongdoing in a statement, claiming the report “is not supported by any facts whatsoever.”
“CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility,” department spokesman Martin Maloney said. “If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them.
Maloney said that clients are not held in secret because “there are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square.” He also said that the allegation “that physical violence is a part of interviews with suspects is unequivocally false.”
Brian Jacob Church, one of the trio known as the “NATO Three,” said he was held at Homan Square in 2012 after undercover officers said he and two friends built Molotov cocktails to attack the city during a NATO meeting.
“When you go in, nobody knows what happened to you,” he said. “It’s almost like they throw a black bag over your head and make you disappear for a day or two.”
Church said he was handcuffed to a bench for about 17 hours as police interrogated him without reading him his Miranda rights or booking him. He said he was not permitted to call a lawyer for hours.
When he was finally able to reach his attorney, it took lawyer Sarah Gelsomino hours to figure out where he was because there was no booking record, she said. When Gelsomino finally found Homan Square, she spoke to Church through a floor-to-ceiling chain-link metal cage, she said.
Attorneys are often denied access to enter the facility after their clients are finally allowed to call them, they said. Some compared practices there to those at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib prisons, American-run abroad detention centers that have been criticized for human rights violations.”
“Eliza Solowiej, of Chicago’s First Defense Legal Aid, said a former client was taken to Homan Square off-the-books and beaten in January 2013.
“He said that the officers caused his head injuries in an interrogation room at Homan Square. I had been looking for him for six to eight hours, and every department member I talked to said they had never heard of him,” Solowiej said. “He sent me a phone pic of his head injuries because I had seen him in a police station right before he was transferred to Homan Square without any.”
Julia Bartmes said she was denied access to Homan Square to visit a client — a 15-year-old boy who was held for 12 to 13 hours without ever being charged in September 2013.
Alleged violations at Homan Square would go against Chicago police guidelines, which stipulate that arrestees are booked without delay, can call their attorneys and be visited by legal counsel.”
My question as to why this story hasn’t seen the light of day until now bothers me. It seems that this alleged Homan Square police center being run similarly to a CIA “black site” is simply emblematic of systemic major prison difficulties going back over 45 years. In addition, I wouldn’t want to be the Chicago defense attorney who decides to take on the Chicago PD. On 2/24/15, Arturo Garcia of Raw Story reported what a local Chicago activist believes:
” Chicago reporters failed to cover a police “black site” where suspects were held without access to legal representation because they sided with the authorities, a local activist and criminologist told The Atlantic on Tuesday.”
“I think that many crime reporters in Chicago have political views that are right in line with the police,” Tracy Siska said. “They tend to agree about the tactics needed by the police. They tend to have by one extent or the other the same racist views of the police — a lot of urban police (not all of them by any stretch, but a lot of them) embody racism.”
“Siska is the head of the Chicago Justice Project, a non-profit group that works toward improving police transparency in hopes of improving community relations.”
Melanie Newport who is a Graduate School Senior Doctoral Fellow at the Center for the Humanities at Temple University. published a blog regarding this Cook County jail history on March 11, 2014, titled, “a brief history of class action lawsuits at cook county jail.”
Here are some excerpts from her blog:
“Big news lately- the Uptown People’s Law Center and MacArthur Justice Center are bringing suit in federal court with allegations of brutality in Cook County Jail. Brutality is an understatement- you can read the complaint, Hudson v. Preckwinckle, here. (here is a link to the Chicago Tribune‘s coverage)
A sampling of the complaint:
“A culture of brutality and lawlessness infects the jail and forces these men, all of whom are awaiting trial, to live under a constant risk of life threatening violence.
Officers slam people to the floor, stomp, kick and punch them—often while the individuals are handcuffed and shackled. After beating shackled men until they lose consciousness, officers will drag them by their chains, banging their heads on steel doors or allowing their heads to slam into the concrete floor. Officers often violently attack people living with mental illness—generally for behaviors that are manifestations of mental illness or in response to an individual’s request for a mental health evaluation. People who appear to be in active psychosis are frequently brutalized by mobs of officers for alleged “non-compliance.”
Officers also order the men to attack, beat and stomp each other—instigating violence between the very individuals that they are supposed to protect.”
The allegations at Cook County Jail are by no means unique in our moment of national jail crisis. But it’s important to remember that this particular institution has a especially complicated and long-lasting relationship with the federal courts system.
THERE HAVE BEEN MULTIPLE CLASS ACTION SUITS INITIATED AGAINST THE HUGE COOK COUNTY PRISON SYSTEM.
Ms. Newport continues her discussion. “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the utility of class action suits. As the usprisonculture blog noted recently,
the prison IS violence. Until, we are honest about this fact, nothing can end the routine violation of the humanity and dignity of prisoners. We cannot “reform” prison brutality because once again the prison IS violence in and of itself. We must end prisons to end the violence. It’s the only way.
There are so many ways that class action suits fall short- Inmates v. Tierney was dropped and no one was held accountable; Duran v. Sheehan helped to make the jail as one of the largest correctional institutions in the world. Reform is a limited paradigm. A letter I found in my research further emphasizes this point, and even anticipated the outcome of Duran. In 1974, Alvin Bronstein, director of the ACLU’s Prisons and Jails project wrote,
“I am not very hot for cases that aim to improve conditions for pre-trial detainees. They do not address the issue of why pre-trial detainees are in jail in the first place, and too often the result is the building of a bigger and better jail. Nothing changes.”
I relate to this sense of hopelessness. Change at the jail is slow, and many of the outcomes the inmate class sought to see remedied in 1968 (and later) remain to be seen. And yet, criminal suits and FBI investigations at jails are rare. Cook County politicians engaged in the blame game are dallying in shifting the onus for reform from the sheriff to the County Board President in unprecedented ways. After 45 years, class action suits remain the most promising mechanism incarcerated people can use to press reform. We need the federal courts because Cook County has continuously failed to show up for its citizens.”
As per my recent research, if I lived in Chicago or in the Midwest and I believed that my constitutional rights were violated by the police, I would look no further than by contacting the Chicago law firm. Loevy and Loevy. Here are some excerpts from their advertisement:
“Loevy & Loevy has won more multi-million dollar verdicts than perhaps any other law firm in the country over the past decade. Our willingness to take hard cases to trial, and win them, has yielded a nationally recognized reputation for success in the courtroom. Our victories over the past ten years alone include:
$55 million after class-action jury verdict for our clients in the 2010 Young v. Cook County class action suit for federal claims. Our verdict in this 250,000-member class action law suit represents one of the rare instances that class counsel were willing to take a class action all the way to verdict. (Judge Kennelly)
$25 million jury verdict for our client, Thaddeus Jimenez, in 2012, the largest wrongful conviction case jury verdict in the history of the United States. At trial, we proved that the Chicago Police Department violated Mr. Jimenez’s constitutional rights, resulting in 16 years of wrongful imprisonment. (Judge Kennelly)”
UPDATE 3/4/15: Here is a link to the entire DOJ investigative report on the Ferguson PD practices: