Prosecutors allege decades of torture by Chicago police

Ex-commander linked to coerced confessions from 1970s to 1990s

July 20, 2006|By CARLOS SADOVI AND BOB SECTER | CARLOS SADOVI AND BOB SECTER,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- Former Chicago police commander Jon Burge directed a pattern of torture against criminal suspects for two decades, coercing dozens of confessions with fists, feet, radiator burns, guns to the mouth, bags over the head and electric shock to the genitals, special prosecutors charged yesterday.

Concluding a four-year investigation, the prosecutors painted a portrait of a criminal justice system where top officials in a position to stop Burge - among them Mayor Richard M. Daley when he served as Cook County state's attorney - appeared to have blinders on.

But, the prosecutors concluded, it's too late to pursue charges against Burge or any of the other officers involved. Statutes of limitations have long since run out on the cases, which they said stretched from the 1970s to the early 1990s.

The prosecutors singled out for criticism former Chicago Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek, who served under Mayor Jane Byrne.

Brzeczek was guilty of "dereliction of duty" and acted in bad faith by failing to act in the early 1980s on suspicions that Burge and detectives under his command had mistreated prisoners.

Brzeczek publicly praised the detectives while privately harboring suspicions about their activities, the prosecutors alleged.

"There are cases which we believe would justify our seeking indictments for mistreatment of prisoners by Chicago police officers," said the prosecutors, Edward Egan and Robert Boyle.

Their conclusions could find their way into civil lawsuits that former death row inmates have filed against Burge and the city. Officials at the state appellate defender's office said they will study the report for evidence of additional wrongful convictions that might be appealed.

Meanwhile, the office of U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald requested a copy of the 292-page report.

The Justice Department during the Clinton administration had looked into torture allegations against Burge and determined they were too old to prosecute.

It was not clear what Fitzgerald could do with the new information, but civil rights attorneys said it could provide a roadmap for prosecutors to investigate possible civil rights violations by Burge and others.

Several people who claimed to have been abused by Chicago detectives have sued the city and the Police Department, and the report could bolster their cases. Attorney Locke Bowman of the MacArthur Justice Center said the City Council should pay for counseling for those who contend they were tortured.

The report goes into graphic detail about the torture of Andrew Wilson, the convicted murderer of two Chicago police officers. Wilson said that he was beaten and kicked during his interrogation, and that officers put a plastic bag over his head and burned his arm with a cigarette.

Then, he said, an officer pulled from a grocery bag a black box that had a crank on it. Wilson said alligator clips were attached to his left ear and left nostril and he received a shock when an officer cranked the box. Burge, he said, also cranked the box to shock him and then put a gun in Wilson's mouth and clicked it.

The report said no black box was recovered. But the report makes it clear that there is ample evidence - including burn marks on Wilson's nostril and ear - that such a device was used.

Burge, a commander on the South Side, was fired by the Chicago Police Board in 1993 for allegedly torturing a murder suspect. He lives in Florida, and still receives a city pension of more than $3,400 a month. He could not be reached for comment.

Chicago taxpayers have spent at least $7 million defending the city in lawsuits arising from torture allegations tied to Burge. The special prosecutor investigation cost another $7 million.

Egan, a former judge and prosecutor, and Boyle, another former prosecutor were appointed in 2002 by Chief Criminal Court Judge Paul Biebel to investigate the long-standing allegations against Burge. Egan and Boyle said they looked into 148 allegations of abuse, almost all of which involved suspects who were minorities, and determined that about half were credible.

Egan and Boyle said the evidence of abuse in at least three of the cases was so strong that they were convinced they could prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt if the statute of limitations did not bar prosecution.

Chicago Police Superintendent Phil Cline said the report does not reflect today's department. He said a new system videotapes all police interrogations of murder suspects and prevents the type of abuse detailed in the report.

Carlos Sadovi and Bob Secter write for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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