Settlements for Chicago police torture victims

THE CHICAGO City Council approved a nearly $20 million settlement for four men who were tortured by police working for former Commander Jon Burge and railroaded onto Illinois' death row.

In 2003, Madison Hobley, Stanley Howard, Leroy Orange and Aaron Patterson were granted pardons based on evidence of innocence by former Gov. George Ryan, when he cleared death row by commuting the death sentences of every prisoner. Yet the City of Chicago fought against settling civil suits filed by the four until last week.

While the settlement hardly compensates for the torture the four men endured and the years that police and prosecutors stole from them, it is a step towards justice for victims of police torture.

But Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who as Cook County State's Attorney from 1980 to 1989 oversaw the prosecution of police torture victims, couldn't have been more wrong when he said that "this tragic chapter in our city's history is closed."

Daley neglected to mention that Burge is living in Florida, collecting a full police pension while the city continues to pay his legal fees--or that no other police officer has ever been fired, let alone prosecuted, in connection to the torture allegations.

He also failed to point out that neither he nor Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan have agreed to an evidentiary hearing into the claims of any of the 26 police torture victims who remain behind bars--despite, most recently, a Cook County Board resolution urging Madigan to do just that.

The latest settlement pales in comparison to a recent $15.5 million award for Kevin Fox from nearby Will County for the coerced confession and wrongful prosecution that kept him in jail for about 8 months.

Aaron Patterson was awarded $5 million for the 17 years he spent on death row, but he won't get to enjoy it for nearly 30 years, as he is fighting a new federal conviction on gun and drug charges. Leroy Orange received $5.5 million for his 19 years in prison, and Stanley Howard, who is still fighting a separate rape conviction, was awarded $1.8 million, and agreed to relinquish $1 million in legal fees.

Madison Hobley was granted $7.5 million, but he has to wait until 2009 to receive $6 million of it on the condition that he is not indicted by federal prosecutors for the very crime that Ryan already acknowledged he didn't commit.

As much as public officials like Daley would like to put the police torture scandal behind them, it continues to resurface.

In November, James Andrews was freed on bond after Cook County Judge Thomas Sumner threw out his conviction, admitting that his confession based on torture was the only evidence against him. Last month, an appellate court granted an evidentiary hearing to Victor Safforld, a fellow member with Hobley, Howard, Orange and Pattterson of the Death Row 10, where he will be able present evidence of torture.

And activists with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty are planning to protest on Valentine's Day, February 14, to urge Lisa Madigan to "have a heart" and meet with family members and activists about working for new trials for Burge torture victims.

Far from closing any chapter of history, the settlement of the civil suits opens a new stage in the battle to win justice for victims of police torture.