This is the fifth blog in the series detailing about how the Chicago powers to be were complicit in the cover up of torture complaints by victims for many years which would rival any story that the CIA has been accused of perpetrating in recent news headlines. The incidents of torture occurred between the years of 1972 – 1993, under the auspices of a career police officer who rose through the ranks to become a commander, Jon Burge. Although the city fired him in 1993, it took until 2011 before he saw the insides of a jail and he was released from a Tampa halfway house in February, 2015 with his annual pension of $54000, intact.
The tale of how the powerful continuously took steps to avoid accepting responsibility for these misdeeds is incredulous. It is no wonder that those in influential positions today would do just about anything to sweep the Homan Square police facility scandal under the rug. This is historical walk down memory lane explains why Chicago residents need to demand that the Chicago Police Department be held accountable for any instances of excessive abuse by detainees, if their claims prove to be true as reported in the 2/24 and the 2/25/15 Guardian. This news outlet detailed how this site is being used similar to a CIA “black site.”
The reference for this background material is by G. Flint Taylor of Peoples Law Offices, titled, “A Long and Winding Road: The Struggle for Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases.” The following are some excerpts spanning the years from 2007 to 2013.
The Federal Investigation, More Exonerations, and an Indictment (2007-2008)
In the wake of the special prosecutors’ report as well as the shadow report, the CAT findings, the City and county hearings, and the public outcry, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced that his office was investigating Burge for possible federal offenses.
A few months later (December,2007), the City settled the torture cases brought by the four pardoned torture survivors for a total of $19.8 million. Several of the torture victims, particularly Darrell Cannon and Anthony Holmes, who had been recently released after spending decades in prison, became eloquent spokesmen for the movement, telling their stories at churches and community meetings, on radio and television, and at Rainbow PUSH, which became a strong advocate for justice in the torture cases. Several TV reporters, newspaper columnists and radio personalities, particularly Cliff Kelly of WVON Radio and Carol Marin of the Chicago Sun-Times and WMAQ TV, gave serious attention to the torture scandal.
Another important community group, Black People Against Police Torture, organized town hall meetings to discuss the torture cases, and joined with other groups to oppose Mayor Daley’s attempt to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago.
On Oct. 21, 2008, banner headlines announced that Jon Burge had been arrested in Florida on an indictment charging him with three counts of perjury and obstruction of justice due to lying about torture in his November 2003 interrogatory answers.
$20M Settlement OK’d for Chicago Torture, Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 10, 2008.
The City had agreed to settle with three of the four men for $14.8 million more than a year previously, but the City refused to execute the agreement. Burge claimants allege City backed out of $14.8 million settlement.
U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald contemporaneously announced that his office was also investigating Burge associates for similar offenses. When asked, Mayor Daley took no responsibility for the torture, but rather issued what the Chicago Sun Times characterized as a “sarcastic apology.”
Buoyed by this victory, lawyers and activists turned their attention to the twenty-five torture survivors who still languished behind bars as a result of torture induced confessions. In May 2009, after an evidentiary hearing, a Cook County Circuit Court judge found that torture victim Victor Safforld’s confessions to two separate murders had been coerced pursuant to systemic Burge-related torture, and he was released later that year. Safforld, who had converted to Islam while incarcerated, was supported by the Nation of Islam and other community activists and religious leaders who regularly attended court and publicized his case. More releases followed. In July 2009, former death row prisoner Ronald Kitchen, who had been tortured into confessing by Burge, and Kitchen’s co-defendant, Marvin Reeves, were exonerated and released after spending 21 years in the penitentiary for crimes they did not commit. In January 2010, torture survivor Michael Tillman was similarly exonerated and released, and this exoneration was front-page news.
A confederate of Burge’s who had been granted immunity from prosecution was a reluctant witness for the government, and two African American detectives also testified for the prosecution. Burge took the stand in his defense to deny everything, but the members of his Area 2 “asskickers” team declared their intention to invoke the Fifth Amendment and were therefore not called as defense witnesses. On several occasions, the month-long trial captured front-page headlines, but its coverage was significantly diminished by the start of the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in early June. People’s Law Office lawyers reported on the trial to the African American community through daily appearances on Cliff Kelly’s radio show, John Conroy Three posted a daily blog on the trial for the local National Public Radio station, and Burge torture survivors also commented publicly. On June 28, 2010, the movement against police torture claimed another important victory when the jury of eleven whites and one black returned a guilty verdict against Burge on all three counts of the indictment. On the heels of the verdict, Tillman and Kitchen filed civil rights damages lawsuits alleging torture and wrongful convictions. The lawsuits named Richard M. Daley as a co-conspirator with Burge, his midnight crew, the assistant state’s attorneys who participated in their interrogations, and numerous former high-ranking police officials.
Undeterred by Burge’s conviction, the City renewed its commitment to provide these defendants, including Burge, with private lawyers at the taxpayers’ expense. The Police Pension Board, in a decision that further fanned community outrage, decided in a 4-4 vote that Burge could continue to collect his police pension despite his conviction. In the fall of 2010, Richard M. Daley, who had served as Chicago’s mayor for more than 20 years, announced that he would not run for re-election.
Activists attempted to put the Cliff torture issue on the agenda of the several candidates who subsequently declared for the office, and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis made it a central theme of his campaign. However, his campaign was short lived as he was compelled to withdraw from the race by forces within the African American community, and the other candidates, particularly the eventual winner, Rahm Emanuel, studiously avoided addressing how they would deal with the City’s continuing role in the torture scandal. In January 2011, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow, after conducting a two-day hearing, imposed a four-and-a-half-year sentence on Burge. During the hearing, Anthony Holmes spoke movingly about the meaning of the conviction and sentence to the survivors of torture, and African American history professor Stanley Wrice articulated the importance of restorative justice to Chicago’s African American community. Judge Lefkow, in her findings, without naming names, condemned police and prosecutorial leadership for its role in facilitating the scandal. In March 2011, Burge reported to Butner Federal Penitentiary in North Carolina to begin serving his sentence.
The Struggle for Justice Continues
Several community groups and organizations have continued to press for justice in the torture struggle. The Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project — a group of artists and other activists — organized community meetings with a focus on creating proper memorials “to honor the survivors of torture, their family members, the African American communities affected by the torture,” and the “struggle for justice waged by torture survivors and their families, attorneys, community organizers, and people from every neighborhood and walk of life in Chicago.” The Illinois Coalition Against Torture gathered more than 3,500 signatures in support of a City Council resolution that declared Chicago a torture-free zone. With Alderman Joe Moore’s sponsorship, the resolution passed by a unanimous vote in January 2012.
And in May of 2012, a powerful play about the police torture scandal entitled My Kind of Town and written by John Conroy opened at the TimeLine Theatre in Chicago. Local and national activists and lawyers continued to work with Congressman Davis in championing the Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act of 2011, an act that would make police torture a federal crime without a statute of limitations. Davis reintroduced the legislation in January 2012 after a congressional briefing that featured presentations on Chicago police torture as well as other police and prison human rights violations.
The Illinois Torture Commission, which was created as a result of the work of Black People Against Police Torture and other community groups, began its review of numerous cases, despite a crisis in funding that threatens its continued work.
More Legal Victories
In March 2011, torture victim Eric Caine, who had spent 25 years in prison, was released after a Cook County judge ordered that he be given a hearing on his allegations that his confession was tortured from him. Several other torture victims, including Stanley Wrice, were also granted new hearings, and Special Prosecutor Stuart Nudelman appealed the ruling in Wrice’s case to the Illinois Supreme Court, arguing that it was “harmless error” to admit his confession into evidence, even if it had been obtained by torture. The Illinois Supreme Court rejected this disturbing argument in a landmark decision that will hopefully clear the way for obtaining new hearings for the some 15 men who still remain in prison on the basis of tortured confessions. In the spring and summer of 2011, the federal judges in the Tillman and Kitchen cases delivered decisions that, in the main, upheld the legal claims alleged. In her precedent setting decision, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer decided in July 2011 that former Mayor Richard M. Daley could be held as a conspiring defendant in the Tillman case. While this decision initially passed below the public radar, a front-page and top-of-the-news exclusive by reporter Carol Marin that trumpeted “Daley The Defendant” later brought a wave of public attention to an issue that had festered for years, particularly in the African American community – Daley’s unpunished role in the torture scandal.
Tillman’s lawyers quickly declared that they would seek to depose Daley under oath, and newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel, after at first attempting to avoid the issue, vowed, in another front-page exclusive, that it was “time we end” what the Chicago Sun-Times characterized as “one of the ugliest chapters in the history of the Chicago Police Department.” Emanuel further asserted that he was “working towards” settling the cases. After eight months of delay, and a motion to compel his testimony, Daley’s lawyers finally agreed to produce him for deposition, which is now set for July of 2013, but they have declared an intention to ask the judge to order that his videoed testimony be kept secret. Despite Mayor Emanuel’s statements, the City has still not settled the cases, and the taxpayers continue to pay additional millions to defend Burge, Daley, and their alleged co-conspirators.
In contrast, Cook County recently settled Michael Tillman’s claim against the assistant prosecutor who was allegedly contemporaneously aware that Tillman was being tortured and made no effort to stop the abuse.
Meanwhile, the ongoing federal perjury and obstruction-of-justice investigation that has targeted several of Burge’s confederates has yet to yield any additional indictments. And the Beat Must Go On . . . As the Chicago police torture scandal approaches its 40-year mark, the struggle against police torture has, against great odds, obtained many important victories. Originally only faintly heard from distant prison cells, the cry for justice has gathered strength as torture survivors, their families, and the African American community joined with dedicated lawyers, community activists, human rights advocates, journalists, and politicians to advance this historic fight for justice. However, much remains to be done, and the struggle for justice in the torture cases continues, together with an equally important effort to expose and record for history the complete and truthful account of the horrific crimes committed. In the meantime, this scandal continues to stain the conscience of the City of Chicago.