Spotlight on police torture

Chicago police torture victim Mark Clements of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty reports on a new development for the victims of Jon Burge.

Survivors of Chicago police torture (left to right): Victor Saffold, Mark Clements, Anthony Holmes and Darrell CannonSurvivors of Chicago police torture (left to right): Victor Saffold, Mark Clements, Anthony Holmes and Darrell Cannon

SYSTEMATIC TORTURE committed by the notorious Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his men will take center stage on September 15 before the Illinois Supreme Court. The court will hear a petition filed by Cook County Special Prosecutor Stewart Nudelman that seeks to deny hearings to victims of Burge who still languish behind bars, despite evidence that they were tortured into giving "confessions" to police.

Burge and his sadistic ring of racist cops tortured more than 200 Black men between 1972 and 1991, and to this day, city and county officials continue to deny these victims their opportunity to have their claims of torture heard in court.

The still-incarcerated Burge victims whose right to a hearing on their torture claims has never been recognized include the following individuals: Edward James, James Lewis, Jackie Wilson, Jerry Mahaffey, Reginald Mahaffey, Leonard Kidd, Vincent Wade, Franklin Burchette, Grayland Johnson, Demond Weston, Tony Anderson, Ivan Smith, Javan Deloney, Johnny Plummer and Stanley Wrice.

Other victims have been granted a hearing and remain in prison awaiting their long-deferred day in court. And, of course, there may be other victims whose cases have still not been identified.

Wrice is the petitioner whose case will be heard at the Supreme Court, but the ruling will likely hold implications for other Burge victims facing similar attempts by prosecutors to suppress their torture claims. Wrice, a man of faith currently incarcerated at Pontiac Correctional Center, believes it is only a matter of time before he is released and reunited with his three daughters.

In December 2010, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Wrice and others were entitled to hearings on their claims of torture. This prompted Nudelman to file a petition before the state's Supreme Court, which argues that Wrice's confession coerced by torture was a "harmless error," as long as other evidence existed to suggest that the defendant committed the crime.

Activists believe that this is just a stalling attempt by Nudelman to avoid doing what is right. They have called on U.S. District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to indict the detectives for conspiracy and to release the torture victims from prison immediately. While Fitzgerald has hinted that his office continues to investigate, no detectives other than Burge have been indicted for their role in the torture scandal that has plagued the department for years.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

IN JULY 2006, a team of special prosecutors appointed by Cook County released a report that confirmed police took their victims to interrogation rooms at Chicago's Area Two and Three violent crime units, and that they were then beaten and tortured by Burge and his subordinates into making "confessions."

As a result of the special prosecutors' findings, several men--including James Andrews, Ronnie Kitchen, Marvin Reeves, Tyshawn Ross, Cortez Brown, Michael Tillman and myself--were finally released after spending many long years behind bars for crimes we did not commit.

The report confirmed that "methodical" torture occurred under Burge and detectives assigned to work under his command. The methods used by Burge's men to torture their victims are grisly, according to the men who suffered the abuse--beatings with fists, flashlights and telephone books; suffocation with plastic typewriter covers and plastic bags; electrical shock by means of a homemade generator attached to their testicles; burns by lit cigarettes put out on their chests; rape with a cattle prod; and systematic racial abuse.

That a prosecutor considers such abuse "harmless error" makes a mockery of the right--guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution--to due process and protection from cruel and unusual punishment, not to mention obvious violations of civil and human rights, especially considering that Burge and his torture ring were white, while all their victims were either African American or Latino.

These men deserve their day in court--now. Burge was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993 and has been cited for torturing criminal suspects in several reports, but he has never been formally charged with committing torture because the statute of limitations had expired.

In October 2008, however, he was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about the torture in a federal case and was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in federal prison in January 2011. Despite his conviction, Burge continues to collect his pension after the Chicago Police Pension Board voted 5-4 to allow him to continue receiving his payments, claiming that his acts of perjury and obstruction of justice did not occur while he was employed by the city as a police officer.