Report: Evidence of Chicago police torture
July 19, 2006 (Last Updated: 10:34 PM) (WLS) -- Special prosecutors released details Wednesday of a four-year investigation into allegations of police torture in the 1970s and 80s. Chicago officers were accused of beating confessions out of black suspects under the command of former lieutenant Jon Burge. The report concluded there is evidence of abuse, but any crimes are now too old to prosecute.
It took the special prosecutors more than four years to complete their report. That cost Cook County taxpayers between 6 and 7 million dollars. After reviewing 148 cases from the 1970s and 80s in which criminal suspects alleged they had been tortured by Chicago police, the investigators say they could find only three allegations supported by enough evidence to warrant prosecution, and that will not happen because the statute of limitations has expired on the incidents.
"Even if the statute has run, there should be a full and complete investigation," said Robert Boyle, special prosecutor.
The 292 page report, plus another 1,300 pages of notes and transcripts on a companion CD, concluded that roughly a dozen Chicago detectives, headed by fired commander Jon Burge, tortured criminal suspects to force confessions from them.
But the investigation also concluded that in the vast majority of cases reviewed -- 145 to be exact -- there was not sufficient evidence to prove torture beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Based upon our investigation, if the statute of limitations had not run, that we would indict in three cases," said Boyle. Vietnam vet Burge was hired by the department in 1969 and rose in the ranks to command detectives during separate periods areas 2 and 3. The police board fired him in 1993 for torturing Andrew Wilson, one of the three cases confirmed in the report released Wednesday. Dozens of suspects have alleged over the years that Burge's so-called "midnight crew" used beatings, suffocation, hot radiators and an electroshock device during interrogations.
Attorneys for the dozens of black men who say they were wrongfully convicted because of coerced confessions were disappointed by the report and will appeal to federal authorities.
"We're not going to rest until people go to jail. This is the situation in which egregious crimes have now been found in this report," said Locke Bowman, MacArthur Justice Center.
They say their best hope now is for the feds to bring charges. But the US attorneys office has declined to bring charges in these cases in the past, and some legal experts say it's not likely now.
"It's really a long shot, and also, people need to remember that the reason we have a statute of limitation is when acts are taking place 20 years ago. Witnesses die, witnesses move, memories fade. It's very hard to get proof together to make a compelling case," said Doug Godfrey, Chicago Kent Law School.
In a controversial finding, the report cleared Mayor Richard M. Daley of any wrongdoing. Daley was state's attorney during the 1980s and in 1982 received a letter from then-police superintendent Richard Brzeczek asking Daley to investigate Andrew Wilson's torture complaint. The report did not hold Daley accountable.
But the special prosecutors wrote that Brzeczek, the only official to ask for an investigation, was guilty of "dereliction of duty." Brzeczek said Wednesday he was being used as a "fall guy" for special prosecutors who were trying to protect Mayor Richard M. Daley.
"They can blame me all they want. I know what I did and I took the appropriate action," said Richard Brzeczek, former police superintendent. "Apparently, they couldn't find another official to qualify to be blamed for dereliction of duty."
The special prosecutors say their investigation included the writing or the review of more than 33,000 individual documents. They also say that they interviewed Mayor Daley as part of the investigation.
But the transcript of Mayor Daley's voluntary interview is not included in the materials published Wednesday. That is raising even more concern by the report's critics that this release was politically edited to protect the mayor. Mayor Daley is in San Francisco and so far has not commented on the report.
Current Chicago Police Superintendent Phil Cline says he hasn't seen the report yet. But he says the department has made changes in the way it interrogates suspects.
"It goes well beyond what state law requires. A simple tape recording would have been enough. We've installed video recordings in all our interrogation rooms and also in our polygraph office and in our cold case office," Cline said.
Burge was never charged in the cases, but he was fired by the Chicago Police Department after a police board found that Andrew Wilson was abused while in custody.
According to the report, Burge took out a device, attached clamps to Wilson's ear and began cranking. This caused Wilson to grind his teeth scream and rub the clamps off. That device is the so-called "black box" that many alleged victims say was used on them. The report goes on to say that Burge told Wilson that he would not be mistreated again if he confessed to the murder. Wilson is now serving a life sentence in prison.
Alleged victims respond to report's release
Special prosecutors Robert Boyle and Edward Egan led the investigation and found enough evidence of torture to indict Chicago police officers. They cited three cases of abuse including one that led to the firing of a Jon Burge. But they added the alleged crimes are too old to prosecute. Now, attorneys for the men who were tortured say the Chicago City Council should offer them reparations.
There was some talk about the men and their families being given a monetary settlement for the abuse and lingering issues. But mostly Wednesday the issue was sheer disappointment. The men who came forward with these allegations have waited for years for their stories to be believed. And now, when their stories are validated, they are told it's too late for justice.
For those fighting to the bring allegations of police brutality to light, the special prosecutors report wasn't enough.
"It's been painful for me every day of my life, and I'm glad this thing came down about Burge so all the public could see what happened," said Anthony Porter, alleged victim.
A special prosecutor's investigation determined there was abuse by police and neglect by prosecutors, but too much time has past to bring charges against those involved: including former Commander Jon Burge who was fired from the Chicago Police Department.
Wednesday, attorneys stood with clients and clients' relatives who have alleged torture by Jon Burge.
"I feel we should get justice. We should be treated equally," said Mary I. Johnson, mother of alleged victim.
Dave Bates says Burge and other officers accused him of murder and tortured him for two days in 1983 using the infamous technique of putting a plastic bag over the suspect's head until the he's out of air.
"The city ought to be ashamed of themselves. Everyone ought to be ashamed of themselves to deal with this. What are we going to tell our children?" Bates said.
Madison Hobley served 13 years on death row for setting fire to a building where his wife and son died. He was among several inmates pardoned by former Governor George Ryan Due to the torture and perjury used to evoke confessions by Burge and others.
"If it's proven that an officer has committed perjury or framed a guy or showed some kind of abuse that breaks the law, I think he should be held accountable. I think he should be indicted," said Hobley.
Hobley has started a new family and hopes there will be systemic changes before his son is older.
"I would hate for him to have to go through what I went through," Hobley said.
Hobley, the other men and their attorneys hope the report will lead to a federal investigation where the prosecutors could pursue charges outside of the statute of limitations. They want those who tortured and looked the other way to serve jail time.
There are civil suits against the officers. If found guilty the penalty would not include jail.
Burge now lives quietly in Florida
While countless investigations, court hearings and accusations have swirled around Jon Burge over the last two decades, Burge himself has not spoken publicly about the torture allegations. He has spent much of his time living in Apollo Beach, Florida.
It's been more than a decade since Jon Burge traded the cold and snow of a Chicago winter for the sunshine and warmth of Florida. This state and this community have offered him anonymity. In Florida his name is not synonymous with some of the darkest chapters in Chicafgo police history.
In Florida Jon Burge doesn't make the news he reads it. And that's fine by him. Burge tells ABC7 he has no comment on the special prosecutor's voluminous report. He is home -- but hasn't answered his doorbell or phone since Edward Egan and his team revealed their belief that there was enough evidence to indict Burge and four of his former detectives on charges they tortured confessions out of black suspects in the 70s and 80s
Burge is a world away from his hey-day in Chicago. He lives in a stucco home with peach shutters. He paid $154,000 dollars for it in 1994, a year after Chicago police fired the famed commander
Around back, Burge's boat is suspended over a canal. Attached to the house is a screened in swimming pool. Burge's home is also a 9-iron shot away from an 18-hole golf course. But retirement hasn't been all about fun-in-the-sun for Burge.
In January of 1996, local police arrested the decorated law enforcement officer and charged him with driving under the influence. Burge refused to take a breathalyzer test after he drove into another car. Nine months later, he was convicted by a judge and sentenced to 12 months probation.
Two years ago Burge was back in a Florida court fighting a subpoena to give a deposition in one of the torture cases. Every time he's been called to testify, attorneys say Burge has invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.
There's nothing to suggest the special prosecutor's findings will interfere with Burge's quiet coastal life in Florida, although he may now have a bit of a publicity problem with the neighbors.
"Everybody gets curious - it's like gossip," said Cathy Lore, Burge neighbor.
Lore said she wasn't sure if the allegations against Burge are true. "It doesn't sound like anyone who would live around here," she said.
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