Torture Allegations Rock Chicago Police Force
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Several Chicago Police officers are accused of torturing suspects. Special Prosecutors have been probing the allegations for years and their report may be made public tomorrow. Some of the torture charges date back to the 1970s and the alleged victims say they're tired of waiting for results. Chicago Public Radio's Diantha Parker reports.
DIANTHA PARKER reporting:
Attorneys, human rights advocates and curious onlookers packed a dingy courtroom on Chicago's Southwest side last week awaiting the release of the Special Prosecutor's report. When the judge announced a delay, lawyers for alleged torture victims held an angry press conference in the courthouse lobby. Attorney Locke Bowman said the evidence can only point to one conclusion.
Mr. LOCKE BOWMAN (Attorney): The torture occurred, that it was widespread, that its effects are ongoing today, and that is damnation for the City of Chicago who allowed it to happen and who continue to seek to cover it up.
PARKER: The torture charges are all connected to former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who oversaw a violent crimes unit in the 1970s and 80s. At last count, more than 190 men, all African American, say Burge and his detectives used abusive techniques to elicit confessions. Alleged victim David Bates says he's waited long enough for justice.
Mr. DAVID BATES (Alleged Victim): Torture occurred. Whether it was a plastic bag put over your head, whether it was a gun put in your mouth, whether it was threat or insult or slap in the face or kicked, it's all a torture.
PARKER: Bates was convicted of murder and other charges in the mid 1980s based on a false confession he gave after being tortured. The conviction and the confession were later thrown out on appeal. The long-awaited report isn't the first effort to get to the bottom of these charges. In 2004 lawyers for a handful of alleged victims who filed civil suits against Burge deposed him under oath. Attorney Flint Taylor found he didn't have much to say.
Mr. FLINT TAYLOR (Attorney): It was part of your effort to apprehend criminals, did it include torturing with electric shock and other devices, suspects that you arrested in the City of Chicago?
Mr. JON BURGE (Former City of Chicago Police Commander): I (unintelligible) my initial response is my answer.
TAYLOR: And you take the Fifth Amendment?
Mr. BIRGE: Yes.
PARKER: Burge has denied wrongdoing, but the City police force did fire him in 1993 for one proven incident of mistreating a suspect. Chicago officials believe that shows they take the charges seriously and that they welcome the final report. Law Department spokeswoman Jenny Hoyle.
Ms. JENNY HOYLE (Law Department Spokeswoman): We didn't step up as really being a party to the case but we do think it should be released to the public.
PARKER: An unexpected voice for getting the findings out is James Sotos, a civil attorney for Jon Burge. Sotos blames the alleged victims and their lawyers for creating a climate that discouraged officers from fully cooperating with the probe.
Mr. JAMES SOTOS (Civil Attorney): Because the plaintiffs took a position with the Special Prosecutor that anything they say, whether they're denying the allegations of misconduct or whatever they said could trigger the revival of the statute of limitations and they could be indicted just for testifying.
PARKER: But lawyers for alleged victims say their suspicions of a cover-up are well founded. They point out that the incident Burge was eventually fired for happened eleven years before his termination. They also maintain authorities knew about that abuse all along. Flint Taylor is the attorney who deposed Burge.
Mr. TAYLOR: The prior prosecutors who had evidence of torture as early as 1982, and I'm talking about specifically Richard Daley and later Richard Devine, those people who did not prosecute need to be held squarely responsible.
Mr. PARKER: Taylor is referring to current Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine. In 1982 Daley was the County's Chief Prosecutor and Devine was his assistant. Now Taylor and his colleague say both men should be included on a list of indictments following the report's release. For NPR News, I'm Diantha Parker in Chicago.
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