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Chicago investigation lets mayor off the hook
Whitewashing police torture

By Nicole Colson | July 28, 2006 | Page 16

AFTER A four-year investigation into allegations that Chicago police used torture against dozens of African American suspects, a special prosecutor delivered the verdict July 19: Not a single officer or city official will be punished in any way.

Chief Deputy Special State's Attorney Robert Boyle concluded what the Chicago Police Department basically admitted itself years ago--that former Commander Jon Burge and officers under his command routinely tortured Black suspects during the 1970s,'80s and '90s.

"While not all the officers named by all the claimants were guilty of prisoner abuse, it is our judgment that the commander of the Violent Crimes section of Detective Areas 2 and 3, Jon Burge, was guilty of such abuse," reads the report's conclusion. "It necessarily follows that a number of those serving under his command recognized that, if their commander could abuse persons with impunity, so could they."

But while the report admits that torture took place, many activists say that the investigation is a $6 million whitewash.

In their announcement to the media, Boyle and fellow Special State's Attorney Edward Egan emphatically stated that not a single criminal charge would be filed by their office. In fact, the special prosecutors say they found just three cases in which they would have sought criminal charges--but the statute of limitations has run out.

In those cases--the 1982 beating of Andrew Wilson, the 1984 beating of Alfonzo Pinex and the 1985 beating of Phillip Adkins--the special prosecutors say that Burge and four other officers were guilty of crimes including dereliction of duty, mistreatment of prisoners and abuse.

That's a mild way of putting it. Wilson was held up against a radiator until he suffered severe burns--in addition, he was repeatedly electroshocked. Pinex was hit in the eye and then held down and beaten by police until he defecated in his pants. Adkins was beaten with fists and a flashlight until he nearly passed out.

The special prosecutors also dismissed out of hand the idea that any of the victims of police torture still in prison should receive new trials. "If we thought that there was someone who was sitting in the penitentiary solely because of torture by a policeman," Boyle explained, "we would take action."

But that's exactly the case, according to Julien Ball, an organizer for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty in Chicago.

"I would say that if no one were in prison based solely on a false confession from police abuse, then [Illinois Attorney General] Lisa Madigan should not be afraid to throw out all of those confessions and give people new trials based on the evidence that they supposedly do have," Ball said. "The fact that they're not doing this shows that the report is meant to convince everybody that the legal system is 'doing its job,' rather than addressing the real problems in our legal system."

Boyle and Egan said they concluded that there is evidence of police abuse in at least 75 of the 148 cases they reviewed in the investigation.

But their report only details abuse in eight specific cases. And in five of these eight cases, the special prosecutors focussed less on allegations of brutality than on attacking the credibility of the men who made the complaints.

Those five men--Stanley Howard, Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Leroy Orange and Leonard Kidd--are some of the highest-profile victims of Chicago police abuse. They are members of the Death Row 10, a group of men who ended up on death row after being tortured into giving false confessions.

In 2003, when former Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentences of all death row prisoners in the state, he issued pardons to Howard, Hobley, Patterson and Orange--in large part because of the strength of their allegations of torture.

The special prosecutors' report insinuates that these men had something to gain from alleging police torture. The report dismisses Stanley Howard's claims of abuse, for example, in part because he "filed a civil rights action after his conviction, which he said he filed to get off Death Row and make some money."

The report calls each of the five's credibility into question based on whether their testimony in the recent investigation--how many times each officer struck, kicked or suffocated them--matched up previous statements given as long as 20 years ago.

"I'm not surprised," Stanley Howard said of the report from behind bars, where he continues to languish on a separate charge despite Ryan's pardon. "But I'm not going to stop fighting."

Overall, the special prosecutors pin the blame for years of abuse on individual officers, former police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek and former Assistant State's Attorney Larry Hyman. That lets off the hook most of the police, prosecutors and politicians who would have almost certainly known about the abuse.

Among them is Chicago's current Mayor Richard Daley, who was State's Attorney when Andrew Wilson was abused in 1982.

At the time, then-Superintendent Brzeczek sent a letter to Daley, along with a letter from the director of Cermak Prison Health Services, detailing Wilson's injuries and his claims of being electro-shocked. Brzeczek requested "direction as to how the Department should proceed in the investigation of these allegations."

According to the special prosecutors, the letter "was probably discussed" with both Daley and his then-First Assistant (and current State's Attorney) Richard Devine, but Daley "has no current memory of how the letter was processed."

There's no telling exactly what Daley or Devine said to the prosecutors, however--since their sworn statements were left out of the report entirely.

According to Boyle, the failure of the prosecutor's office under Daley to investigate the Wilson case amounted to "a bit of a slide."

But, says Flint Taylor, an attorney with the People's Law Office who represents several of the Burge torture victims, "There's only one thing to conclude [from the report], and it's not that Rich Brzeczak is responsible...The prosecutors didn't do anything. That's what the report should be talking about."

The report has angered Burge's victims, as well as anti-police brutality and anti-death penalty activists.

It "acknowledges that we were tortured, but it doesn't offer any type of remedy or recourse to deal with that torture," David Bates, who was tortured by men under Burge's command in 1983, told the left-wing radio and TV program Democracy Now!

"There is grounds for prosecution and evidence beyond anyone's imagination, but there was not a course for action. And that's where I think there was an error in spending over $6 million of county money to give us a $500 report that I could have done in high school."

According to Julien Ball of the CEDP, "The report is designed to basically give the city everything it wants--to hide Daley's role in the torture scandal, the fact that he was State's Attorney when all of this happened.

"It's also designed to protect the city from paying out tens of millions of dollars in civil suits. But at the same time, they have no problem in doling out millions of dollars to pay Jon Burge's legal fees or to pay his $3,400-a-month pension in Florida."

Taylor and others say that there is no reason why Burge and others should not be indicted on federal charges--and why a real investigation into Daley and his underlings could not take place.

As Taylor pointed out, "These cases are similar to the Klan cases in the South. It took 35 years to bring the bombers of the Birmingham Church and the [killers] of the civil rights workers to justice...That's what has to happen here, and that's what we're going to do. If it takes 40 or 45 years, that's what we're going to do."

Two days after the report was released, more than 60 activists turned out in downtown Chicago to protest its findings, chanting "Shame on Daley, shame on Devine, always giving us the same old lies."

"[The report] is galvanizing a lot of the anger that's out there," said Ball. "I think that the role of activists is to help put public pressure in a way that can complement the strategy of the lawyers--but also have the people themselves who were affected by the torture putting forth their own demands. I think the only avenue they have to do that is in the streets, through activism."

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