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Chicago police torture exposed

By Julien Ball | May 26, 2006 | Page 11

CHICAGO--As many as 192 victims of police torture under former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge won a victory May 19 when Judge Paul Biebel ruled that Special Prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle could publicly release the findings of their four-year, $5.7 million investigation.

For two decades, Burge and a ring of Chicago police used Russian roulette, electroshock, suffocation and beatings to obtain "confessions" over a two-decade span.

Outside the courthouse, about 20 activists with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP), the Justice Coalition of Greater Chicago and other community organizations rallied to demand full disclosure of the special prosecutor report, criminal indictments against the officers involved and new trials for torture victims.

Protesters carried a banner saying "Burge=Torture" and signs with the pictures of former death row inmates still incarcerated based on coerced "confessions." In a spirited picket, they chanted "Hey Biebel, give us the word, when are you gonna jail Jon Burge!" and "No justice, no peace, no racist police!"

The rally was the latest in an intense campaign of public pressure by advocates for torture victims.

Human rights lawyers recently went to Geneva, Switzerland, and testified before the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture about abuse by Chicago police. In its report, the UN panel condemned Chicago's human rights record and urged prosecution of Burge and other officers involved in torture.

Public scrutiny of the scandal also intensified when the first person other than one of Burge's victims came forward with an eyewitness account of the torture. A Boy Scout in the 1970s, Frank Sirtoff was visiting a police station as part of a police outreach program and wandered downstairs to see a Black man who was being interrogated hooked up to electrodes.

Sirtoff says that Burge himself came forward and urged his officers to "kill the n-----r." "I've tried to put it in the back of my mind most of the time and tried to live my life as good as I could," he said. "But after seeing something like that, it's a life-changing experience."

Burge was fired in 1993 after being linked to the torture of just one man, Andrew Wilson. But Burge still collects a full pension, and neither he nor the rest of the officers in the torture ring have ever faced prosecution for any of their other crimes.

In approving the report's release, Judge Biebel ruled against the cops' attorneys who argued that public disclosure would violate their clients' privacy. Biebel called the torture allegations an "open sore on the civic body of the city of Chicago which has festered for many years" and wrote that the "interests of justice require the full publishing of the Special Prosecutor's report."

As the judge issued his ruling, about 50 people packed the courtroom. At a press conference after the hearing, they held signs saying "Justice demands more than a report: Jail Jon Burge" and "New trials for torture victims".

"This torture's been going on for a 30-year period, and we think this report should be public knowledge," said Peter Zaczek of the CEDP. "And we also think the police officers involved in the torture should be prosecuted."

Gloria Johnson, who also helped organize the rally, has firsthand knowledge of the injustices of the prison system. Her son Montell, a former Illinois death row inmate now housed at Dixon Correctional Center, has failed to receive proper medical treatment for his multiple sclerosis. She told the Chicago Tribune that the release of the report "will give us a chance to ask for a retrial and get [these men] exonerated...It's criminal to keep our children behind bars when they're innocent."

Judge Biebel has scheduled a June 2 status hearing, and Egan and Boyle have indicated that they will not release the report until then. This delay is unfortunate for those who have waited so long for justice, as it gives the cops' attorneys the opportunity to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Activists plan to flood the special prosecutor's office with phone calls to urge them to release the report immediately.

Call 312-696-0330 to demand that the special prosecutors release their report immediately.

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