US domestic prision scandals



The horrendous story of

Police Torture in Chicago

Jon Burge and police henchmen torture

countless victims

and the massive sustained

government cover up for decades:

the truth hurts sometimes


Torture Is As American As Apple Pie

17th May


written by admin

Saturday, May 15th, This is Hell! broadcasted a live four hour show beginning at 9 AM (US central) on WNUR 89.3 FM. Roughly an hour later Spencer “Thunderball” Thayer (that’s me) debuted his new segment live in their studios.

Click to play audio:

Rough transcript:

Last week something unimaginable happened,finally after 20 years Police Commander Jon Burge walked into a Chicago Federal court house to select the jury that will be judging him on charges of perjury.

And on the 24th of May at 8:30am he’ll be attending his first day of court.

But I think I’m getting ahead of myself, some of you may not know who Jon Burge is, why he is facing jail time or even why you should care.

Burge is being charged with lying during the civil trial of Madison Hobley. See- Madison’s wife, children and neighborswere killed in a fire-and Jon Burge forced him to confess to their murder. Not because he did it but because he was torturedby Burge with the infamous “Black Box.” An electric crank generator often used in Vietnamas a quick way to torture prisoners captured by US forces. Jon Burge said he didn’t do this-after swearing on the Bible. That was a lie and that is a Federal crime.

And that is why he is going to trial, not because he tortured Hobley, but because he lied about torturing Hobley. But he wasn’t Burge’s only victim, and his experience was far from the worst.

Between the years of 1972 and 91, Burge and his “Midnight Crew,” arrested and tortured 135 to 200 people of color. For those 20 years Chicago made Guantanamo Bayseem like a quite beach resort. Their favorite methods of torture were electrocution- typically applied to the genitals and ears- or suffocation with a type writer bag. This was often followed by show executions, beatings,and chaining the victims to a redhot radiator. If a victim was uppity and threatened to talk or refused to sign a confession, Burge would threaten back that he’ll torture or kill their family.

But that’s still not the worst part! The truth of what happened at Area 2 would make the Catholic Church squirm. Some of these victims were as young as thirteen years old! Can you believe that? They were torturing kids!What does this say about the Chicago police? After all, are they not sworn to protect us from monsters that molest children?

Yes, that’s right, I did say molest. John Burge and his Midnight Crew did more than just beat kids. They sexually assaulted them. This is something the media, prosecutors and the public dance around. But it’s the reality of their crimes.

I don’t care what your definition of torture is, if you think it’s sometimes justifiable or not, but whoever assaults the genitals of a kid is a child molester. PERIOD; THERE IS NO DEBATE ABOUT THAT!

Concerned parents all over the nation should be, at a minimum, demanding the resignation of the remaining 8 Midnight Crew officers who are still working for the CPD. But I don’t hear much of anything on the subject. Do you?

So what does that say about us? That, even today, after all we know, we still see and hear from Officer after Officer and Citizen after Citizen defending Burge and his thugs.

Well to be fair, there are committed activists who are doing everything in their power to ensure that Burge pays for his crimes. But as someone directly involved in this community, I have to say- it’s not very large.

Maybe the problem comes from ignorance-you know, a lack of understanding the facts. It’s easy to blame lazy journalism. Since John Conroy, the guy who broke the story about the Midnight Crew, was fired from the Reader in 2003 there has been an absence of valuable reporting on the torture scandal.

For example, this week the Chicago Tribune displayed their typical journalistic integrityby running an AP story where Michael McDermott, a former Midnight Crew detective, was able to express to the public, how he thought it is wrong for the prosecutorsto go after Burge this late in the game.

And that’s it, that’s all the story was about. What is that? That’s not a story! It was more like this Detectives press release. Nowhere in the article does the reporter even bother to mention, that while the detective may think it’s wrongthere are at least 135 victims of torture who feel otherwise. I am sure the journalist could have picked up a phone and found someone willing to provide a quote. Is this just laziness or a reflection of the attitudes of the public?

Which leads me to ask…

What the hell is wrong with you Chicago!?

I guess we just love torture. We love deep dish pizza, the Cubs and grossly violating peoples rights. Before America had Jack Bower, Chicago had the real deal! A real American hero- EVEN IF HE DID TORTURE PEOPLE, because sometimes you have to break a few eggs, right?

Or at least thats what his defenders would want you to believe. They paint Burge as a throw back to a better time. When cops got things done and kept us safe.

What kind of twisted logic is that? How does turning the police force into a lawless gang make anyone safe? I just doesn’t make any sense at all.How can torturing American’s make American’s any safer?

If you think about it for just a second…

You’re left asking, whose America? Could it be that that we are talking about White America? We only care about torture, when the victims look like us?After all, Americans living in the communities of colorwho are victimized by torture certainly don’t feel any safer.

Let’s take the case of Andrew Meyer vs Michael Jacobs. Meyer was a white, middle class college studentbest known to America as “Don’t Taze Me Bro.” His crime was being a dick and asking rude questions. He lived through the incident and sparked a national debateWhile Michael Jacobs is known to America as…

Well actually, Michael Jacobs, isn’t really known to many in America. He was a 24 year old black manwith problems of mental illness. He was off of his meds and acting irrationally forcing his parents to call the police. An officer threatened to taserthe unarmed Jacobs who foolishly replied, ”Go ahead, I’ve always wanted to see what that feels like anyway.” To this the officer tasered Jacobsfor over 50 seconds, killing him by, causing his heart to stop.

Why didn’t the Jacobs case spark a national debate over the use of tazers? They were both young and more or less victims of circumstance. They both had equally stupid last catch phrases. Was it simply because Jacobs was not on video? Maybe…

Or is it because when a person of color is killed by the police White America doesn’t pay much attention.

Try this experiment for a month. Subscribe to the “Injustice News Feed,” it’s on Twitter- I know- I apologize, and read each article they link. Within a week you’ll find at least one incident thatyou could reasonably classify as police torture. Note the race of the victim. And do a search to see if the story was picked upanywhere other than the local news. I bet, you wont be surprised by the results.

Tags: Chicago, Copwatch Communique, CPD, Jon Burge, Police, Spencer Thayer, This Is Hell, Torture

New federal grand jury eyes Burge’s ‘Midnight Crew’

1st April


written by admin

Torture probe expands to cops under his command


Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge faces trial next month on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice linked to police brutality.(AP)

A new federal grand jury has been impaneled to expand the investigation of allegations of police torture under former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, the Chicago Sun-Times and NBC5 News have learned.

The grand jury is investigating what was commonly referred to as the “Midnight Crew,” officers who worked for Burge, according to a source.

This comes as federal prosecutors ready their case against Burge. The aging detective commander is set to go on trial May 6, charged with perjury and obstruction of justice.

None of the officers under Burge’s command has ever been charged in connection with the torture allegations. The new grand jury may decide whether that time has finally come.

Burge and his detectives have always maintained they mistreated no one.

Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge faces trial next month on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice linked to police brutality. (AP)
But according to attorney Flint Taylor, Burge was the ringleader of a band of seven or eight officers that operated out of Area 2 in the 1970s and ’80s.

They were called the “Midnight Crew” because of the hours they worked.

“Under the cover of darkness and the fact that there were relatively few of them, they could do what other detectives felt they couldn’t get away with, and that is torture people,” Taylor said. “And you just have case after case under them of baggings, of electric shock, of mock executions in the ’80s which was the heyday of the Midnight Crew.” (more…)

Tags: Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, Edward Egan, Flint Taylor, Grand Jury, John Byrne, Midnight Crew, Patrick Fitzgerald, Richard Beuke, Robert Boyle

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May 6 – Save the Date


Jon Burge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Accessed May 24, 2010

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Jon Graham Burge
Born December 20, 1947 (1947-12-20) (age 62)
Chicago, Illinois
Residence Apollo Beach, Florida
Nationality American
Ethnicity Caucasian
Citizenship United States
Education Bowen High School
University of Missouri (one semester)
Occupation Police Commander (retired)
Employer Chicago Police Department
Salary $60,000 (1991)
Known for police brutality
Title Detective Commander

Jon Graham Burge (born December 20, 1947) is a decorated United States Army veteran and a former Chicago Police Department detective and commander who gained notoriety for allegedly torturing more than 200 criminal suspects between 1972 and 1991, in order to force confessions. He served tours in South Korea and Vietnam and continued as an enlisted United States Army Reserve soldier where he served in the military police. He then returned to the South Side of Chicago and began his career as a police officer. Allegations were made about the methods of Burge and those under his command. Eventually, hundreds of similar reports resulted in a decision by Illinois Governor George Ryan to declare a moratorium on death penalty executions in Illinois in 2000 and to clear the state’s death row in 2003.

The most controversial arrests began in February 1982 in the midst of a series of shootings of Chicago law enforcement officials in Police Area 2, whose detective squad Burge commanded. Some of the people who confessed to murder were later granted new trials, and a few were acquitted or pardoned. Burge was acquitted of police brutality charges in 1989 after a first trial resulted in a hung jury. He was suspended from the Chicago Police Department in 1991 and fired in 1993 after the Police Department Review Board ruled that he had used torture.

After Burge was fired, there was a groundswell of support to investigate his convictions. In 2002, a special prosecutor began investigating the accusations. The review, which cost $17 million, revealed improprieties that resulted in no action due to the statute of limitations. Several convictions were reversed, remanded or overturned. All Illinois death row inmates received reductions in their sentences. Four of Burge’s victims were pardoned by then-Governor George Ryan, and subsequently filed a consolidated suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against the City of Chicago, various police officers, Cook County and various State’s Attorneys. A $19.8 million settlement was reached in December 2007 with the “city defendants”. Cases against Cook County and the other current/former county prosecutors continue as of July 2008. In October 2008, Patrick Fitzgerald had Burge arrested on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury in relation to a civil suit regarding the torture allegations against him. On April 1, 2010, Judge Joan Lefkow postponed the trial, for the fourth time, to May 24, 2010.[1]


[edit] Early life

Jon Burge
Born December 20, 1947 (1947-12-20) (age 62)
Place of birth Chicago, Illinois
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army/United States Army Reserve
Years of service 1966 – 1972
Rank Sergeant
Unit Ninth Military Police Company of the Ninth Infantry Division
Battles/wars Vietnam War (South Korea & Vietnam)
Awards Bronze Star
Purple Heart
Army Commendation Medal (2)
Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry

Raised in the South Deering community area on the Southeast side of Chicago,[2] Burge was the second eldest son of Floyd and Ethel Burge. Floyd was a blue collar worker of Norwegian descent and Ethel was an aspiring fashionista of mixed Western European descent.[3] Burge attended Bowen High School where he showed a keen interest in the school’s JROTC. There he was exposed to military drill, weapons, leadership and military history.[2] He attended the University of Missouri but dropped out after one semester,[3] which ended his draft deferment.[2] He returned to Chicago to work as a stock clerk in the supermarket chain Jewel in 1966.[3]

In June 1966, Burge enlisted in the army reserve and began six years of service, including two years of active duty. He spent eight weeks at a military police (MP) school in Georgia.[2] He also received some training at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he learned interrogation techniques.[3] He volunteered for a tour of duty in the Vietnam,[3] but instead he became an MP trainer and then served as an MP in South Korea, gathering five letters of appreciation from superiors. On June 18, 1968, Burge volunteered for duty in Vietnam a second time,[3] and was assigned to the Ninth Military Police Company of the Ninth Infantry Division. He reported to division headquarters, where he was assigned to provide security as a sergeant at his division base camp, which was named Dong Tam by William Westmoreland.[2] Burge described his military police service as time spent escorting convoys, providing security for forward support bases, supervising security for the divisional central base camp in Dong Tam, and then serving a tour as a provost marshal investigator.[2]

During his military service, Burge earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and two Army Commendation Medals for valor, for pulling wounded men to safety while under fire.[3][4] Burge claimed no knowledge of or involvement in prisoner interrogation, brutality or torture.[2] Burge was honorably discharged from the Army on August 25, 1969.[2]

[edit] Police career

Jon G. Burge
Chicago Police Department
Born December 20, 1947 (1947-12-20) (age 62)
Place of birth Chicago, Illinois, USA
Service branch United States
Year of service 1970-1992
Rank Sworn in as an officer – 1970
Detective – 1972
Sergeant- 1977
Lieutenant – 1981
Commander (Violent crimes) – 1981
Commander (Bomb & arson) – 1986
Detective Commander – 1988[5]

Burge became a police officer in March 1970 at age 22 on the South side of Chicago. In 20 years of service, he earned 13 commendations and a letter of praise from the Department of Justice.[4] In May 1972, he was promoted to detective and assigned to Area 2 (Pullman Area) robbery.[2] He was next promoted to field lieutenant in the Monroe Street District. From 1981–1986 he served as the commander of the Area 2 Violent Crimes Unit until he was promoted to the Commander of the Bomb and Arson Unit in 1986.[6] In 1988, Burge became Area 3 (Brighton Park) detective commander.[7][8][9]

[edit] Turning point

Allegations exist that torture began in 1972.[10] However, the most prominent example occurred in 1982. On February 9, 1982, there was an incident on the streets in which a suspect took a police officer’s weapon, then shot and killed both the officer and his partner.[11] This incident occurred within Burge’s jurisdiction, who was then a lieutenant and commanding officer of Area 2. The two fatalities brought the total to five officers (including two Cook County Sheriff’s Officers and a rookie CTA cop on February 5) who had been shot in the 60-square-mile (160 km2) area on the South Side within about a month.[12]

Initial interrogation procedures allegedly included shooting pets, handcuffing questioning subjects to stationary objects for day-long time periods, and holding guns to the heads of minors. Operation PUSH spokesmen, Black Police Officers, the Chicago Defender and Jesse Jackson were outraged with techniques that were used. Renault Robinson, president of Chicago’s Afro American Police League characterized the dragnet operation as “sloppy police work, a matter of racism.” comparing the police action to that of a southern sheriff leading a posse that turned into a lynch mob.[13] Jackson complained that the black community was being held under martial law.[14] After all of the police excesses, mere coincidence enabled the capture of the suspects for the most recent two killings. Tyrone Sims identified Donald “Kojak” White as the shooter, and Kojak was linked to Andrew and Jackie Wilson by having committed a burglary with them earlier on the day of the killings.[15]

[edit] Torture methods

Andrew Wilson was arrested on the morning of February 14, 1982 for the murder of the two police officers, and by the end of the day, he was in Mercy Hospital and Medical Center with lacerations on various parts of his head, including his face, chest bruises and second-degree thigh burns.[9] It was clear that Wilson had received sufficient injuries to be sent to the hospital, with more than a dozen of them caused while in police custody.[4] During a two-week trial in 1983, Andrew Wilson was convicted of the killings and given a death penalty sentence, while his brother Jackie was convicted as an accomplice and given a life sentence.[16] In 1985, Jackie’s conviction was overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court because his right to remain silent had not been properly explained.[16] Because Andrew was given a death sentence, his case was not reviewable on the same grounds by the Appellate Court and went directly to the Illinois Supreme Court.[16] In April 1987, the Supreme Court overturned Andrew’s conviction with a ruling that he had confessed involuntarily after being beaten by the police.[17]

In October 1987, the Appellate court further ruled the Jackie Wilson should have been tried separately from his brother and that evidence against Andrew Wilson regarding other matters for which the police wanted him was incorrectly admitted.[18] In June 1988, Andrew was re-convicted.[19] However, with 10 women in favor and two men opposed, the jury was unable to agree on his eligibility for the death penalty after five days of deliberation,[20] and the following month he was granted a life sentence.[21]

Seven years after the original arrest, Andrew filed a civil suit stating that he had been beaten, suffocated with a plastic bag, burned (by cigarette and radiator), treated with electric shock, and been the victim of the pattern of a cover-up. Although the suit was against four detectives, a former police superintendent and the City of Chicago, it hinged on the testimonies of plaintiff Wilson and commander Burge, who oversaw all of the alleged activity.[22]

Jury selection commenced on February 15, 1989.[9] The original two-woman, four-man jury included three blacks and a Hispanic.[23] When Burge took the stand on March 13, 1989, he denied claims he injured Andrew Wilson during questioning and denied any knowledge of any such activity by other officers.[24][25] Gradually, charges against other officers were dismissed. On March 15, 1989, Sergeant Thomas McKenna was cleared of wrongdoing;[26] and on March 30, 1989, Detectives John Yucaitis and Patrick O’Hara were unanimously cleared by the jury.[27] However, the jury was at an impasse on the Burge verdict.[27] U.S. District Judge Brian B. Duff ordered a retrial for Burge, former Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek and the City of Chicago on two other outstanding charges (conspiracy and whether the City of Chicago’s policy toward police brutality contributed to Wilson’s injuries).[23][28] Burge was cleared in a second nine-week trial that began on June 9, 1989.[29][30]

Burge was accused of using a cattle prod.

Burge and other Chicago Police officers allegedly used methods of torture that left few marks. They were accused of slamming telephone books on top of suspect’s heads. There were also three separate electrical devices that Burge and his detectives were accused of using: a cattle prod, a hand cranked device, and a violet wand. They allegedly used an old-style hand cranked telephone which generated electricity, and attach wires to the suspect’s genitals or face. According to veteran sergeant D. J. Lewis, this is a method of torture common in the Korean war (where Burge served), and usually results in a confession. Burge has denied ever witnessing such telephone torture procedures.[2][31] The violet wand was said to be regularly placed either on the anus, into the rectum or against the victim’s exposed genitals.[31] They also used stun guns and adapted hair dryers.[10] Burge and his henchmen also allegedly engage in mock executions, in putting plastic bags over heads, cigarette burnings and severe beatings. At one point he is alleged to have supervised the electrical shocking of a 13 year old boy, Marcus Wiggins.[32][33][34]

[edit] Discovery

The verdict that cleared Burge and his colleagues also found the City of Chicago employed a policy of using excessive force on suspected killers of police officers.[35] Initial reports of torture appeared in the pages of the alternative weekly the Chicago Reader in 1990.[13] By 1990 there was growing momentum to an effort to seek disciplinary action against Burge.[36][37] An investigation conducted by Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards concluded that Jon Burge and his detectives engaged in “methodical” and “systematic” torture, and “The type of abuse described was not limited to the usual beating, but went into such esoteric areas as psychological techniques and planned torture.”[38]

Danny K. Davis turned police brutality and excessive force into a Chicago Mayoral race campaign issue for the February 26, 1991 Democratic Primary. He sought an independent citizens review.[10] In January 28, 1991, Amnesty International called for an investigation into police torture in Chicago.[32][39] After Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley showed reluctance to follow the Amnesty International directive, Davis raised an issue about a police coverup.[35] Eventually, after pressure by citizens’ organizations and anti-brutality organizations an internal investigation resumed.[40]

In 1991, Gregory Banks filed suit against Burge, three colleagues and the City of Chicago for condoning brutality and torture. The allegation was related to a false 1983 confession to murder obtained by placing a plastic bag over Banks’ head, putting a gun in his mouth and other acts. There were eleven other suspects that the officers allegedly abused with brutality such as electro-shock. The suit was brought by the same attorneys who represented Andrew Wilson in the previous 1989 brutality case.[41] The suit described 23 incidents against black and Hispanic suspects between 1972–1985.[42] A third suit was brought against Burge in 1993.[43][44] The Banks suit named Sergeant Peter Dignan as one of the officers involved in the abusive handling. Dignan was promoted later for meritorious service despite the fact that the City of Chicago settled out of court with Banks.[45]

In November 1991, the Chicago Police Department Office of Professional Standards, an internal review division for police misconduct, acknowledged an October 25, 1991 request for action against Burge. This type of request was a common precursor to a police dismissal and gave the City of Chicago’s Corporation counsel 30 days to consider the report.[46][47] Burge was suspended pending separation for 30 days starting on November 8, 1991.[48] The Chicago Police Board set a November 25 hearing to formalize the firing of Burge and two detectives based on 30 counts of abuse and brutality against Wilson.[49] The hearing related to the internal police investigation finding that Burge and Detective John Yucaitis physically abused Wilson in 1982, while Detective Patrick O`Hara did nothing to stop them.[50] The suspension became controversial after the 30 day period ended and the officers remained suspended without pay. They sued for reinstatement,[51] but their reinstatements were denied.[52] During the hearing an internal report that had been suppressed for years revealed police review findings that criminal suspects were subjected to systematic brutality at the Area 2 detective headquarters for 12 years and that supervisory commanders had knowledge of the abuses.[53][54] During the trial, several alleged victims testified against Burge.[55][56][57]

The internal hearing concluded in March 1992,[58] and the Chicago Police Board found Burge guilty of “physically abusing” an accused murderer 11 years earlier and ordered his firing from the police force on February 10, 1993.[59] Detectives John Yucaitis and Patrick O’Hara, were given 15-month suspensions without pay and reinstated, which amounted to a penalty equal to time served.[4][59][60] Upon reinstatement the two detectives were initially demoted,[61] but almost a year later they were reinstated at full-rank with backpay for time served while demoted.[62] Burge attempted to have the ruling overturned,[63][64] but the suspension and subsequent firing was upheld.[65][66]

The internal hearing resulted in a situation in which the City of Chicago was employing lawyers to defend Burge during an appeal by Wilson and a new case by Banks while employing lawyers to prosecute him on departmental charges.[67] The City of Chicago had to hire outside counsel to prosecute the detectives at the internal hearing.[50] After having spent $750,000 to defend Burge in the Wilson hearing, the City of Chicago was in a dilemma about whether to follow normal practices and pay for the defense of its police officers.[68]

In 1993, Wilson was granted a new hearing by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.[69] The ruling was based on the fact that the exoneration of the officers resulted from a trial strategy to “immerse the jury in the sordid details of Wilson’s crimes” rather than focus on a suspect’s “right to be free from torture and the correlative right to present his claim of torture to a jury that has not been whipped into a frenzy of hatred”.[70]

[edit] Abuse-related decisions

In 1998, Bianca Jagger, Anthony Amsterdam, George N. Leighton, Abner Mikva, R. Eugene Pincham and representatives from the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago Law School, and by the London-based International Center for Criminal Law and Human Rights called for a stay of execution for Aaron Patterson who was allegedly tortured into a confession.[71][72]

In 1999, lawyers for several death row inmates began to call for a special review of the convictions based on evidence extracted by Burge and his colleagues. These inmates (Aaron Patterson; Madison Hobley; Stanley Howard; Leonard Kidd; Derrick King; Ronald Kitchen; Reginald Mahaffey; Jerry Mahaffey; Andrew Maxwell, and Leroy Orange) became known as the “Death Row 10″.[73] In a report called the Goldston Report, the City of Chicago enumerated 50 alleged instances of police brutality and abuse by Burge and other officers.[74] The City of Chicago struggled with the issue of coerced confessions for decades and in the 1990s it quietly reopened several controversial brutality cases. Despite an extensive investigation into the actions by a number of police employees, few others but Burge were sanctioned.[75]

Several politicians, including state representative Bobby Rush, requested that State’s Attorney Richard A. Devine seek new trials for the Death Row 10 who were allegedly tortured by Burge.[76] Devine met with representatives and supporters of the inmates[77] and was convinced to request that the Illinois Supreme Court stay proceedings against three of the inmates.[78] However, the Supreme Court denied Devine’s request.[79][80] Rush also sought out Janet Reno to pursue federal intervention.[81]

Former Illinois Governor George Ryan

In February 1999, David Protess, a Northwestern University journalism professor and his students uncovered exonerating evidence on behalf of Death Row inmate Anthony Porter.[82][83] The students produced four affidavits and a videotaped statement that placed the guilt on another suspect. Recantations of testimony at trial were among the affidavits obtained. One witness claimed that he named Anthony Porter after police officers threatened, harassed and intimidated him into doing so.[84][85]

In 2000,[86] Governor Ryan halted executions in Illinois after courts found 13 death row inmates had been wrongfully convicted.[4][87] Ryan also promised to review the cases of all Illinois death row inmates.[88] With the number of cases of alleged brutality, offers were made to allegedly coerced inmates to drop charges in exchange for reduced sentences. A plea agreement was reached with one convicted victim.[89] Devine made a broader offer to several inmates.[90] Aaron Patterson rejected the plea.[91]

On January 10, 2003, having lost confidence in the state’s penal system,[92] outgoing Republican Governor George Ryan commuted the death sentences of 167 prisoners on Illinois’ death row.[87][93] Ryan pardoned four death row inmates: Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson, Leroy Orange and Stanley Howard.[94][95] On January 11, Ryan decided to grant clemency to all death row inmates by converting death sentences to sentences of life without parole in most cases and reducing some sentences.[96][97] Among those pardoned were four of the ten who claimed wrongful imprisonment. In the unusual proceeding, the governor took the extraordinary step of a direct pardon release rather than a court proceeding.[98]

Daley, at the time the Cook County State’s Attorney, has been accused by the Illinois General Assembly of failing to act on information he possessed on the conduct of Burge and others.[32] Daley has acknowledged his responsibility to be proactive in stopping the torture, but denies any knowledge which could have made him responsible.[99] On July 19, 2006, US Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. issued a press release calling Mayor Daley culpable, possibly even criminally culpable, for his failure to prosecute until the statute of limitations had run out.[100] Jackson called for an investigation to determine if there was any planned delay to allow the cases to expire.[100] Eventually, death penalty opponents requested that U.S. President Bill Clinton follow Ryan’s lead in halting executions.[86] In August 2000, The Illinois Supreme Court reversed or remanded two Burge-related death row cases based on allegations of torture by police.[101][102]

After being pardoned by Governor Ryan, Burge’s victims began to file lawsuits. Madison Hobley was the first of the four pardoned inmates to file suit in May 2003.[103][104] Aaron Patterson followed in June with his own suit,[105][106] and Stanley Howard filed suit in November.[107][108] Eventually, the City of Chicago agreed to a $20 million settlement with the four pardoned inmates.[109][110] Another result of the pardons was a series of legislative death penalty reforms that Ryan’s successor Rod Blagojevich vetoed.[111][112] By 2005, the state mandated video recording of interrogations in homicide cases.[113] Barack Obama had pushed the mandated video recording bill through the Illinois State Senate in 2003.[114]

[edit] Review

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was a city prosecutor during the Burge trials.

In 2002, the Cook County Bar Association, the Justice Coalition of Chicago and others petitioned for a review of the allegations against Burge. Edward Egan, a former prosecutor, Illinois Appellate Court jurist, and semiretired lawyer who lived in Florida, was appointed as a Special State’s Attorney (a/k/a “special prosecutor“) to investigate allegations dating back to 1973. He hired an assistant, several lawyers and retired Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officers.[4] The only prior official investigation, which resulted in Burge’s firing, had been by the Office of Professional Standards, which determined that “the preponderance of evidence is that abuse did occur and that it was systematic.”[115] Former prosecutor Robert D. Boyle was also appointed as a special prosecutor.[116][117] In 2003, former Chief of the Special Prosecution Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Gordon B. Nash Jr. was appointed as an additional special prosecutor.[118]

A total of 60 cases were ordered to be reviewed.[115] A special prosecutor was hired because Cook County State’s Attorney, Richard Devine, had a conflict of interest stemming from his tenure at the law firm of Phelan, Pope & John, which defended Burge in two federal suits.[115] Criminal Courts Judge Paul P. Biebel Jr. presided over the determination of the need of a review to determine the propriety of criminal charges and the appointment of the special prosecutor.[115]

During the written phase of the investigation Burge and eight other officers pled the Fifth Amendment.[119] On September 1, 2004, Burge was served with a subpoena to testify before a grand jury in an ongoing criminal investigation of police torture while in town for depositions on civil lawsuits at his attorney’s office. Burge pled the Fifth Amendment to virtually every question during a 4 hour civil case deposition. He only answered questions about his name, his boat’s name (Vigilante) and his $30,000 annual pension.[120] The City of Chicago continues to be bound by court order to pay for Burge’s legal fees.[120] The service of the subpoena was quite storied with Burge eluding servers at Midway Airport and a team placed at his lawyers office before dawn.[120] Eventually, several police officers were granted immunity in order to further the investigation into Burge.[121]

Three years into the investigation no criminal charges had been filed although several civil suits were filed in federal court. By that time, a total of 139 victims were involved in the case as were 19 investigators. Disappointment on the progress caused the victims to request the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights allot them an hour-long hearing at their October 2005 session.[122][123]

On May 19, 2006 an initial ruling was made to release the special report on torture accusations.[124] On June 20, 2006, the Illinois Supreme Court unblocked the release of the special report by Egan that took 4 years and cost $17 million.[125] In the end 148 cases were evaluated.[87] The investigation revealed that in three of the cases prosecutors could have proved beyond a reasonable doubt in court that torture by the police involving five former officers including Burge had occurred.[87][126] Half of the claims were deemed credible, but because of the statute of limitations no indictments were handed out. Mayor Daley and all law enforcement officials who had been deposed were excluded from the report. Also, the 75 credible abuse cases were overlooked with the report focusing on doubts about the actual torture of pardoned death row inmates. Among the final costs were $6.2 million for the investigation and $7 million to hire outside counsel for Burge and his cohorts.[127] Although the statute of limitations argument was a disappointment to many, the argument was very elaborately detailed in an 18 page section of the report. Debates in the op-ed pages continued for days and Egan explained his report to the public with legal theories and federal jurisdiction issues.[128]

In 2002, Special State’s Attorney (a/k/a “special prosecutor“) Egan was appointed by Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr., Presiding Judge of the Criminal Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, who directed Egan to investigate (and, if appropriate, prosecute) the accusations. Egan’s review, which cost $17 million, revealed improprieties that resulted in no action due to the statute of limitations.[127]

Four of Burge’s death row inmate victims—Aaron Patterson, LeRoy Orange, Stanely Howard, and Madison Hobley—filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against the City of Chicago, Burge, several of Burge’s former subordinate police detectives, Cook County, and a few current and former State’s Attorneys and assistant state’s attorneys of Cook County (the precise list of police officers and prosecutors varied somewhat from plaintiff to plaintiff). Although each case was randomly assigned to a different district judge, the parties all consented to have the four cases consolidated for discovery management before Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown. A settlement of $19.8 million was reached in December 2007 between the plaintiffs and the so-called “city defendants” consisting of the City of Chicago, Burge, the other former detectives, and former Cook County State’s Attorney (now Mayor of Chicago) Richard M. Daley.[129][130] The cases against Cook County and the other current/former prosecutors continue as of July 2008. Having never been convicted of a felony, Burge continues to receive a police pension to which he is entitled under Illinois state law.[4]

Since being fired Burge has lived in Apollo Beach, Florida, a suburb of Tampa. In 1994, he bought his current wood-frame home for $154,000 and a 22 ft (6.7 m) motorboat.[4] While a police officer Burge had owned a 40-foot (12 m) cabin cruiser named The Vigilante that he maintained at Burnham Harbor.[131] Upon retiring at full pension he ran a fishing business in Florida.[73] The precise amount of his pension is not a matter of public record, but he was eligible for 50% of his approximately $60,000 salary.[132]

The torture revelations led to actions to mandate videotaping of confessions.[133][134] The case has been chronicled in various formats in the mass media. The book Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People (2001, ISBN 0520230396) by John Conroy includes four chapters on Burge’s story.[4][135] Also, the 1994 Public Broadcasting Service documentary film, co-produced with Peter Kuttner, that was entitled The End of the Nightstick, analyzed the torture charges against Burge.[136]

[edit] Arrest

United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has arrested Burge

Although Burge had been presumed to be protected by a statute of limitations, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald, in October 2008 charged Burge with two counts of obstruction of justice and count of perjury.[137][138] Burge was arrested on October 21, 2008 at his home in Apollo Beach, Florida by FBI agents.[139]

Under the charges, Burge may be subject to 40 years in prison for the two obstruction counts and five years on the perjury count.[140] The charges are the result of convicted felon Madison Hobley’s 2003 civil rights lawsuit alleging police beatings, electric shocks and death threats by Burge and other officers against dozens of criminal suspects.[139]

Burge has pleaded not guilty and been released on $250,000 bond.[141] Fitzgerald noted that although Burge was being charged with lying and not the torture for which the statute of limitations has invalidated, he believed Burge to be guilty of both.[141] In the October 21 press conference, Fitzgerald stated that Burge had “lied and impeded court proceedings” during his 2003 written testimony.[137] In the indictment, the prosecution stated that Burge understood that he was a participant in and was aware of “such events involving the abuse or torture of people in custody”.[137] The trial had been set for May 11, 2009.[141] Instead, on April 29, Burge filed a change-of-venue motion and the trial in relation to a lawsuit filed by former Death Row inmate Madison Hobley is now set for October 29, 2009.[142][143]

Also in April, Cortez Brown, who is seeking a new trial with respect to two 1990 murders and who has already subpoenaed two Chicago Police Detectives for his May 18, 2009 hearing, won the right to subpoena Burge for his hearing from a Cook County Judge. Burge was expected to exercise his 5th Amendment right not to testify against himself.[144] However, the Florida judge refused to grant such a subpoena given the likelihood that Burge would exercise this right.[145]

On May 6, jury selection began for the trial.[146] 80 potential jurors were given a 29-page questionnaire to complete. Attorneys had until May 24 to review the questionnaires before final jury selection began.[147] An additional batch of 90 potential jurors was given a questionnaire on May 17.[148]

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ “Burge trial delayed for fourth time”. Chicago Sun-Times. 2010-04-01.,jon-burge-torture-trial-delay-040110.article. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j “Tools of Torture”. Chicago Reader. 2005-02-04. Retrieved 2007-10-02.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Conroy, p. 61.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i LaPeter, Leonora (2004-08-29). “Torture allegations dog ex-police officer”. St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2007-10-03.
  5. ^ “Burge Federal Indictment”. United States Attorney. 2009-05-13. Retrieved 2009-08-05.
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  10. ^ a b c Spielman, Fran (1990-12-25). “Davis urges new review of police brutality cases”. Chicago Sun-Times. Newsbank. Retrieved 2008-07-14.
  11. ^ Conroy, pp. 21–2.
  12. ^ Conroy, p. 23.
  13. ^ a b John Conroy (1990-01-26). “Police Torture In Chicago: House of Screams”. Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2007-10-09.
  14. ^ Conroy, pp. 23–4.
  15. ^ Conroy, p. 24.
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[edit] References

[edit] External links


An archive of articles by John Conroy

on police torture, Jon Burge, and related issues

By John Conroy

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The Persistence of Andrew Wilson
A cop killer who fought to expose torture in the Chicago Police Department has died, but his testimony from beyond the grave could still help bring down its perpetrators.
November 29, 2007

Is This a Gag?
The city’s lawyers claim a gag order prevents them from discussing the strange deal they made to settle police torture lawsuits. There’s no order.
September 28, 2007

The Meter’s Still Running and the Mayor’s Still Mum
Since 2003 the city has paid some $7 million in legal fees to fight five police torture lawsuits it probably can’t win. The latest turn in this saga involves a secret settlement agreement designed to protect Daley.
July 6, 2007

Twenty Questions
Lawyers for police torture victims are trying to get Mayor Daley on the stand. We’ve got a few things to ask him too.
May 11, 2007

Confessions of a Torturer
An Army Interrogator’s Story
March 1, 2009

The Good Cop
Detective Frank Laverty did the right thing – and paid for it for years.
January 5, 2007

Blind Justices?
The prosecutors who sent police torture victims to prison are now the judges who keep them there.
December 1, 2006

Doe in the Headlights
By trying so hard to keep his name out of the police torture report, Lawrence Hyman has made sure it’s a name we’ll always associate with police torture.
July 19, 2006

The Police Torture Scandal: A Who’s Who
With the results of a four-year, multimillion dollar investigation due any day, here’s a guide by staff reporter John Conroy to the key figures in the scandal. Some of them may look familiar.
June 16, 2006

What Does John Doe Know? The guy blocking the special prosecutor’s report on Chicago police torture may be trying to protect more than his own name.
June 9, 2006

Tools of Torture
Though he continues to deny it, Jon Burge tortured suspects while he was a Chicago police detective. Now his contemporaries from Vietnam reveal where he may have learned the tricks of his trade.
February 4, 2005

The Mysterious Third Device
February 4, 2005

Torturer’s Logic
All over the world, torturers have one thing in common: they think they’re doing the right thing.
May 14, 2004

Deaf to the Screams The next state’s attorney to investigate police torture in Chicago will be the first.
August 1, 2003

A Hell of a Deal
His job is to prosecute criminals. But if the criminals are cops, state’s attorney Dick Devine doesn’t want to hear about it. Now, with Devine offering inmates their freedom if they’ll drop their claims of torture, some defense attorneys suggest appointing a prosecutor to go over his head.
October 12, 2001

What Price Freedom?
Darrell Cannon has accepted a plea bargain that will spare him a lifetime in prison. But there’s a catch: the police officers he’s accused of torture won’t be forced to testify.
March 2, 2001

The Magic Can
It grows. It shrinks. It leaps throught locked doors. If you believe that, you won’t mind if the state executes Madison Hobley.
May 26, 2000

Pure Torture
Police lieutenant Raymond Patterson didn’t believe his son Aaron was a gangbanger. He was wrong. Then he didn’t believe that police officers had forced Aaron to confess to a double murder. He may have been wrong about that too.
December 3, 1999

Poison in the System
Darrell Cannon and a parade of men claim they were tortured by detectives at Area Two. Why won’t the police department confront its demons?
June 25, 1999

Shot in the Dark
In the confusion surrounding the bloody shoot-out that killed Nick Richard, one thing is perfectly clear—the police department doesn’t want to hear about it.
November 6, 1998

The Shocking Truth After insisting for years that Andrew Wilson was never tortured by police, why did the city then begin insisting that he was?
January 10, 1997

Town Without Pity Police torture: The courts know about it, the media know about it, and chances are you know about it. So why aren’t we doing anything about it?
January 12, 1996

House of Screams Torture by electroshock: Could it happen in a Chicago police station? Did it happen at Area 2?
January 26, 1990

Related Stories

My Kind of Town, John Conroy’s unforgiving new play about the Chicago police torture scandal, gets a reading at the Chicago Writers’ Bloc New Play Festival.

A cop killer who fought to expose torture in the Chicago Police Department has died, but his testimony from beyond the grave could still help bring down its perpetrators.

The city’s lawyers claim a gag order prevents them from discussing the strange deal they made to settle police torture lawsuits. There’s no order.

Since 2003 the city has paid some $7 million in legal fees to fight five police torture lawsuits it probably can’t win. The latest turn in this saga involves a secret settlement agreement designed to protect Daley.

Lawyers for police torture victims are trying to get Mayor Daley on the stand. We’ve got a few things to ask him too.

Detective Frank Laverty did the right thing–and paidfor it for years.

The prosecutors who sent police torture victims to prison are now the judges who keep them there.

By trying so hard to keep his name out of the police torture report, Lawrence Hyman has made sure it’s a name we’ll always associate with police torture.

Since the first reports of Chicago police torture surfaced a quarter century ago the list has swelled to nearly 200 cases involving dozens of public employees–and still no one has been prosecuted. Now, with the results of a four-year, multimillion dollar

The guy blocking the special prosecutor’s report on Chicago police torture may be trying to protect more than his own name.

Though he continues to deny it, Jon Burge tortured suspects while he was a Chicago police detective. Now his contemporaries from Vietnam reveal where he may have learned the tricks of his trade.

All over the world, torturers have one thing in common: they think they’re doing the right thing.

It’s been nearly a year since Barry Cunnane was inexplicably gunned down, but his friends haven’t given up on finding the killer.

The next state’s attorney to investigate police torture in Chicago will be the first.

His job is to prosecute criminals. But if the criminals are cops, state’s attorney Dick Devine doesn’t want to hear about it. Now, with Devine offering inmates their freedom if they’ll drop their claims of torture, some defense attorneys suggest appointin

Darrell Cannon has accepted a plea bargain that will spare him a lifetime in prison. But there’s a catch: the police officers he’s accused of torture won’t be forced to testify.

It grows. It shrinks. It leaps through locked doors. If you believe that, you won’t mind if the state executes Madison Hobley.

Police Lieutenant Raymond Patterson didn’t believe his son Aaron was a gangbanger. He was wrong. Then he didn’t believe that police officers had forced Aaron to confess to a double murder. He may have been wrong about that too.

After insisting for years that Andrew Wilson was never tortured by police, why is the city now insisting that he was?

Police torture: The courts know about it, the media know about it, and chances are you know about it. So why aren’t we doing anything about it?

Torture by Electroshock: Could it happen in a Chicago police station? Did it happen at Area 2?

    • by John Conroy
    • Jan 25, 1990
  • Torture

A center for the treatment of torture victims has opened in Uptown. Business is brisk.

    • by John Conroy
    • Aug 4, 1988

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Between the years of 1972 and 1991, approximately 135 African-American men and women were arrested and tortured at the hands of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and officers under his command at Area 2 police headquarters. Some of these victims were as young as thirteen years old. Various court cases have established that the methods of torture used in the interrogation of suspects included electric shock to the ears and genitalia, mock executions, suffocation, and burning. While Jon Burge was ultimately fired by the Chicago Police Department, not a single perpetrator of the tortures has ever been criminally prosecuted.

These incidents were not isolated and allegations of abuse by Burge continue to surface. In fact, the Area 2 cases are seen by many observers as part of a pattern and practice of racially-motivated police brutality in Chicago that has been revealed over the course of many years. This site is devoted to telling the stories of the Area 2 victims and seeking justice for those without a voice.

Today, over two decades have passed since the first allegations of torture by Chicago police officers surfaced. Many of the allegations have been acknowledged to be credible. For example, Judge Milton Shadur of the U.S. District Court (N.D. Ill.) found that:

“It is now common knowledge that in the early to mid-1980s Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and many officers working under him in the physical abuse and torture of prisoners to extract confessions.” U.S. ex rel. Maxwell v. Gilmore 37 F. Supp.2d 1078 (N.D. Ill. 1999)

And yet—Jon Burge and his fellow torturers remain free. None of the perpetrators have faced a criminal trial. How has this grave impunity transpired? What does the future hold for Burge and his accomplices?

Please explore our site to find more information and learn what is being done to help bring justice to the Area 2 victims and their families.

This archive, an on-going project, is the result of a joint effort by Human Rights Program faculty and staff, Students for Human Rights, the MacArthur Justice Center, the People’s Law Office, and attorneys who have contributed their time and energy to working on these cases. The archive is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Robert Kirschner (1940-2002), an internationally recognized forensic pathologist, a founder of the University of Chicago Human Rights Program and faculty member of the Medical School. Dr. Kirschner played an essential role in the documentation of torture in these cases.


After decades of complaints, Chicago police torture trial begins

By Associated Press

May 23, 2010, 7:25PM

View full sizeAssociated Press, FileIn this Oct. 21, 2008 file photo, former Chicago Police Department commander Jon Burge is seen outside the Federal Courthouse after he was released from custody in Tampa, Fla. On Monday, May 24, 2010, jury selection is scheduled to begin in Burge’s trial on charges that accuse him of lying about the torture of suspects. KAREN HAWKINS, Associated Press Writer

CHICAGO, Illinois – Long after the statute of limitations on torture itself has run out, a trial finally begins. For decades, black men across Chicago described torture at the hands of former police Lt. Jon Burge and his officers, and for decades no one listened. Suspects landed in jail and even on death row for crimes they say they didn’t commit after Burge and his men coerced confessions using terrifying methods including suffocation, a form of waterboarding and electric shocks.

Finally those complaints from the 1970s and 80s are being taken seriously — and it could be Burge’s own words that send him to prison.

Jury selection begins Monday in Burge’s trial on federal obstruction of justice and perjury charges. He’s accused of lying when he denied in a civil lawsuit that he and other detectives had tortured anyone. He faces a maximum of 45 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Burge has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is free on bond.

Authorities have, to a degree, acknowledged that Burge may have committed these horrifying acts, but he does not face torture-related charges because the statute of limitations has run out. The police department fired him in 1993 for mistreatment of a suspect, but did not press charges. A decade later, then-Gov. George Ryan released four condemned men he said Burge had extracted confessions from using torture.

The allegations of torture and coerced confessions eventually led to a still-standing moratorium on Illinois’ death penalty and the emptying of death row — moves credited with re-igniting the global fight against capital punishment. But they also earned Chicago a reputation as a haven for rogue cops, a place where police could abuse suspects without notice or punishment.

The scandal has extended to the highest levels of city and county government, and the trial’s witness lists include Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who was Cook County state’s attorney during Burge’s tenure, fellow former State’s Attorney Dick Devine, and Daley’s predecessor in the mayor’s office, Jane Byrne.

View full sizeAssociated Press, FileDavid Bates, seen in this July 19, 2006 photo, says he was slapped, kicked and had a plastic bag placed over his head during interrogations by Chicago police in 1983.Prosecutors are expected to call former police officers and at least a half dozen men who say they were tortured by Burge or those under his command. The more than 100 victims say the torture started in the 1970s and persisted until the ’90s at police stations on the city’s South and West sides.

Burge is the first Chicago officer accused of torture to be criminally charged in the case.

“I’m just glad it came to trial in my lifetime, because it looked like it wasn’t going to happen,” said Jo Ann Patterson, whose son Aaron Patterson was one of the four whom Ryan freed from death row because he believed he had been tortured.

The Republican governor later cleared all of death row, saying the torture of innocent men at the hands of Chicago police had tainted the state’s entire death penalty system.

“How many more cases of wrongful convictions have to occur before we can all agree that the system is broken?” Ryan said at the time.

In July 2006, two special prosecutors named to look into the allegations said evidence indicated that dozens of suspects had been mistreated during the 1970s and ’80s but that the cases were too old to bring charges. The statute of limitations on the offenses they identified in the report is three years.

Two years later, Burge was charged with lying under oath in a civil lawsuit in which he denied he knew about or took part in beatings, threats and torture methods such as “bagging” — forcing a confession by a putting a plastic typewriter cover over a suspect’s head.

Other alleged victims spoke of beatings, gun threats and a mysterious black box used to emit electric shocks. One said his tormentors poured soda into his nose.

The police department fired Burge in 1993, and he now lives in retirement in Florida. He’s been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and his trial was delayed for months while he recovered from treatment.

More about torture

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The 62-year-old Army veteran wasn’t prosecuted for torture even after police officials agreed that he’d participated in it, and some in the legal community say he wouldn’t be facing charges at all if it wasn’t for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

“There were a lot of people who could’ve done something about it and didn’t,” said Jon Loevy, an attorney who’s represented several alleged torture victims. “There were a lot of lost opportunities, and finally Mr. Fitzgerald’s office is going to do something about it.”

Victims, lawyers and police officers said they have mixed feelings about the trial. Some, like Patterson, are just glad it’s finally happening. David Bates, who says he was tortured by men under Burge’s command, called the trial a “win-win.”

But attorney Flint Taylor, who’s represented alleged victims over the last 20 years, isn’t satisfied, pointing to the dozens of alleged victims still in prison.

“There really can’t be any full justice until the torturers are all in jail, and the torture victims are released and given fair trials,” he said.

Burge’s trial in front of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow is expected to last six weeks.


Report on Chicago Police Torture Is Released


Published: July 19, 2006

CHICAGO, July 19 — Special prosecutors said today that scores of criminal suspects were routinely tortured by police officers on the South Side in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but that extensive legal research convinced them that there was no way to skirt the statute of limitations preventing prosecution.

After four years, more than 700 interviews and $6 million, the prosecutors said that they could prove at least three cases, involving five fired or retired officers, beyond a reasonable doubt in court, and that they found credible evidence of abuse in about half the 148 complaints they had thoroughly investigated. Yet they rejected arguments by lawyers for the abuse victims that there is an ongoing conspiracy to obstruct justice that allows criminal charges to be filed now.

“We want to make it really clear, we only wish we could indict in these three cases,” Robert D. Boyle, the chief deputy special state’s attorney, said ruefully at a morning news conference downtown.

The prosecutors’ long-awaited 292-page report attempts to reach closure on an excruciating chapter in Chicago history, one that has helped cement a chasm between African-American citizens and white police officials, driven changes in police procedures, and played a critical role in the national debate over the death penalty. Among those interviewed in the probe were Mayor Richard M. Daley, the county’s top prosecutor when some of the most egregious complaints were lodged, and his former assistant and successor, Richard A. Devine.

Mr. Boyle condemned Chicago’s former police superintendent, Richard Brzeczek, saying he “did not just do his job poorly, he just didn’t do his job,” but had only mild criticism for Mayor Daley, who received a letter documenting serious abuse in 1982 but delegated its investigation. “We accept his explanation, but would not do it the same way he did,” Mr. Boyle said of Mr. Daley.

Torture victims and lawyers representing them expressed profound disappointment in the report, and said Mr. Daley and Mr. Devine should face federal indictment along with a fired police commander, Jon Burge, and rogue officers under his command for obstruction of justice, perjury, racketeering and civil rights violations.

“Somebody needs to go to jail,” said one of the lawyers, Lawrence Kennon. “Burge needs to go to jail. His henchmen need to go to jail. They mayor should be indicted for covering up.”

Locke Bowman, another attorney for the victims, said the “report stops short” because “it fails to place responsibility at the doorstep of other individuals.” He added, “I’m talking about Mayor Daley.”

Mayor Daley was in San Francisco today and a spokeswoman said he would not respond to the report until later in the week. Mara Georges, the city’s corporation counsel, released a statement saying the report “is lengthy and comprehensive and reflects the hard work of the special prosecutor and his staff,” adding, “we are in the process of thoroughly reviewing it and will comment on the report upon the completion of our review.”

In a written statement, Mr. Devine said today that during his tenure as first assistant state’s attorney, “claims of systemic abuse at Area 2 had not crystallized,” and that in terms of the critical complaint that came to his attention, “I had no reason to believe that the claims were not handled appropriately.”

“We cannot undo the past,” he added. “We can only commit ourselves to doing all in our power to prevent such abuses from happening in the future.”

Mr. Brzezcek, who ran against Mr. Daley for state’s attorney in 1984 after resigning as police superintendent and now is a lawyer in private practice, said the report is “a big political cover-up” that he has no plans to read.

“I think it’s the work of two political appointees who had to fix the blame on someone who’s not connected to Daley — that’s me,” he said in an interview, questioning why the lengthy investigation focused so heavily on a single case that occurred during his brief tenure when allegations stretch for many years before and after. “I read about 25 nonfiction hardcovers a year,” he added. “I establish priorities for reading. I have some back issues of the National Enquirer that I’m going to read first.”

Mr. Burge, who was fired over s0me of the allegations in 1993, has denied wrongdoing in the cases.

The report, along with 1,452 additional pages on the remainder of the 148 cases, will undoubtedly be used in five civil cases by abuse victims currently pending in federal court, as well as more than two dozen instances in which imprisoned victims are challenging their convictions based on the torture. Mr. Boyle said a copy had also been requested by the United States Attorney’s office, which gave the victims some hope.

“Something as serious as police torture, there shouldn’t be a statute of limitations,” complained another lawyer, Flint Taylor, who likened the situation to Ku Klux Klan killings in the 1960’s that remain under investigation and have led to convictions in recent years. “It’s like murder.”


June 9, 2006

The Chicago Files

Police Torture in America


During the last four years, a court-appointed special prosecutor has spent more than $5 million investigating a police torture ring that terrorized nearly 200 Black men on Chicago’s South Side during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

But the report has still not seen the light of day–kept under wraps by the efforts of some of the city’s most powerful politicians.

Edward Egan, a former Illinois appellate judge, issued subpoenas, reviewed records of all sorts, heard testimony and finally wrote a report documenting the findings of his investigation into the torture of African American suspects in custody at Area 2 and Area 3 police headquarters.

Judge Paul Biebel, who appointed Egan, ruled that the report should be released, calling the torture allegations an “open sore on the civic body of the city of Chicago which has festered for many years.” Biebel wrote that the “interests of justice require the full publishing of the special prosecutor’s report.” But the police under investigation and their allies in the city’s political machine have so far kept the findings under wraps.

The torturers

The facts of the Chicago police torture scandal are well established. Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and officers working under him used a variety of torture techniques–Russian roulette, electroshock, suffocation and beatings–to extract “confessions” during interrogations at Area 2 and 3 police stations.

For more than a decade, the officers suffered no consequences for their crimes. In fact, they were often promoted for “getting the bad guys” and “closing their cases” with speed and certainty, at a time when politicians nationally were declaring a “war on crime.”

Even if their victims did come forward, the detectives reasoned, who would take the word of poor, Black “criminals” over white cops? That assumption served them well–until an anonymous tip written on a Chicago Police Department (CPD) letterhead landed on the desk of Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office.

Taylor was representing Andrew Wilson, who was beaten so badly by detectives investigating a 1982 double police murder that he had to be hospitalized. After Taylor filed a civil rights lawsuit on Wilson’s behalf, he received the tip, which encouraged him to interview Melvin Jones, then being held at Cook County Jail. Jones suffered a torture session so similar to Wilson’s that it stunned Taylor.

Taylor himself uncovered 60 cases going back to 1983, and the numbers have only increased since.

After Wilson won his suit, the CPD’s own internal affairs division launched an investigation. In his 1990 report, CPD investigator Michael Goldston not only concluded that the torture had occurred, but that the cover-up reached far up into the chain of command.

“The preponderance of evidence is that abuse did occur and that it was systematic…that the type of abuse described was not limited to the usual beatings, but went into such esoteric areas as psychological techniques and planned torture…and that particular command members were aware of the systematic abuse and perpetuated it, either by actively participating in some or failing to take any action to bring it to an end,” wrote Goldston.

Grayland Johnson was one of the victims of this “planned torture.” Police handcuffed him to a metal ring in a wall and beat him with a telephone book. They placed the book on his head and hit it with a long flashlight, which produces an excruciating crushing sensation. Next, they put a plastic typewriter cover over Grayland’s head until he nearly suffocated.

Because Grayland still refused to confess and kept asking for a lawyer, the cops hung him out a bathroom window, threatening to drop him and make it look like he died during an escape attempt. When they brought him back inside, they forced his head into a toilet that an officer had just urinated in.

They continued with the typewriter cover, and Grayland could hear people laughing as he was gagging for air. “Guess who, nigger?” said the detective who took the bag off his head.

Grayland ended up on death row. Prosecutors went so far as to use someone else’s medical records to cover up the abuse inflicted on Grayland.

Like many victims of torture, Grayland, who is still behind bars, carries a sense of shame about what happened. “No, I don’t like remembering what they did, nor the fact that I was scared to tell the doctor all they had done, because the police were there, and I feared they would take me back and finish,” said Grayland. “I don’t like to remember because I was such a coward not to make them kill me right there.”

The cover-up

In all likelihood, Burge learned about electroshock while torturing Vietnamese prisoners before he was honorably discharged from the military in 1969–and brought the method back to Chicago’s South Side.

On one end of the device he and his officers used are alligator clips, which are attached to the ear lobes, testicles or limbs, or inserted into the rectum. On the other end is a black box with a hand crank that acts as a generator. The pain is intense.

The Goldston report led to Burge’s forced retirement in 1993. But to this day, Burge receives a police pension, enjoys the Florida sun and spends time on his boat–aptly named The Vigilante–while many of his victims still languish behind bars. Only two other officers were “disciplined” along with Burge, and they were reinstated after serving relatively brief suspensions.

How could torture carried out by Chicago police over two decades and corroborated by the CPD’s own investigation result in nothing more than this? Goldston’s report acknowledged the complicity of senior commanders, but the report didn’t say anything about the role of even more powerful people outside the police department.

In 1980, Chicago’s current Mayor Richard Daley was the Cook County State’s Attorney. As the city’s top prosecutor, he added to his resumé convictions against defendants who had “confessed” during torture sessions conducted by Burge and other officers. In 1989, Daley left the State’s Attorney’s office to become mayor.

Dick Devine was Daley’s right-hand man when the two held jobs at the prosecutor’s office, and he was eventually elected as Cook County State’s Attorney, a position he holds today.

How much did Daley and Devine know about Burge’s activities? We may never know the full extent, but we do know that former Chicago police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek, now a criminal defense lawyer, received a letter from Cook County Jail’s chief physician documenting “electric shocks” to a suspect’s mouth and genitals.

Brzeczek wrote to State’s Attorney Daley, seeking his direction on proceeding with an investigation. “I will forbear from taking any steps until I hear from you,” wrote Brzeczek. Daley never responded.

“I think he was more concerned with making political decisions as to what would be appropriate for his political career, rather than the appropriate legal decision,” Brzeczek told a reporter in May.

We also know that the city of Chicago spent more than $1 million in legal fees defending Burge from torture allegations. And we know that Dick Devine personally represented Burge in federal court on at least one occasion–and that Devine billed the city $4,287.50 in fees for legal work on Burge’s behalf.

Daley and Devine have a lot to lose and nothing to gain from a new report detailing the complicity of police and prosecutors in torture.

The struggle

For years, activists, lawyers and family members of torture victims organized press conferences, pickets and lawsuits to publicize the allegations against Burge. Their efforts paid off when a court ruled that Dick Devine’s conflict of interest in the case warranted the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Recently, a series of pickets outside the special prosecutor’s office calling for the release of the report got headlines and lead coverage on the local news. With all the attention, the campaign to get the report out has taken on a life of its own.

In late May, Frank Sirtoff became the first independent eyewitness of the torture to come forward. In 1975, he was a 14-year-old Boy Scout. Along with his cousin, he regularly visited his scout leader, who was a detective at Area 3 headquarters.

One day, they stumbled on a horrifying scene–a Black man strapped to a chair with wires all over his body. “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,” said Sirtoff, explaining his decision to put aside his fear and come forward after all these years. “But after seeing something like that, it’s a life-changing experience.”

The United Nations Committee Against Torture released a report in May, noting “the limited investigation and lack of prosecution in respect of the allegations of torture perpetrated in areas 2 and 3 of the Chicago Police Department” and calling on authorities to “promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigate all allegations of acts of torture” and to “bring perpetrators to justice.”

So far, a string of legal motions–first by police and now by the State’s Attorney’s office–have bottled up the special prosecutor’s report.

Darby Tillis, who spent more than nine years behind bars–several of them on death row–before he was exonerated and released in 1987, has been centrally involved in the struggle to expose police torture.

“One of my biggest concerns is the men rotting away in the penitentiary,” Darby said of the delay in the release of the special prosecutor’s report. “If they can stall for two or three years and get it tied up in the Illinois Supreme Court, that’s two or three years that innocent men will remain behind bars.”

But with continued pressure, many think the report will come out sooner–perhaps this summer. It’s time that Jon Burge faces prosecution–and that all the other powerful men who built careers by victimizing poor Black men finally pay a price.

ERIC RUDER is a reporter for the Socialist Worker.

February 03, 2005 News & Commentary » Feature



Tools of Torture

Though he continues to deny it, Jon Burge tortured suspects while he was a Chicago police detective. Now his contemporaries from Vietnam reveal where he may have learned the tricks of his trade.

By John Conroy

Feature archives »

Editors’ note: this story also contains “The Mysterious Third Device“, which ran as a sidebar to the cover story on February 4, 2005

Q. While you were in Vietnam on that base camp did you ever hear of any torture that went on in that POW compound?

A. No, sir, I didn’t.

Q. Never had any discussions about that that whole time you were there, is that right?

A. No. I was in the U.S. Army, counselor.

–from the cross-examination of Chicago police commander Jon Burge by People’s Law Office attorney Flint Taylor, March 15, 1989

Jon Burge seems to have begun abusing suspects not long after he became a Chicago police detective in 1972, but not until the late 80s was he cross-examined at length about his interrogation practices. Accused by convicted cop killer Andrew Wilson of torture, he testified fearlessly, presenting himself as guilty only of being a dedicated, resourceful policeman and an activist supervisor. He said he often stood at the door of interrogation rooms, listening to his detectives question suspects, and never saw any abuse.

Wilson had shot two officers dead in February 1982, and Burge worked five days straight to track him down, never going home. When Wilson was finally located, hiding in a west-side apartment, Burge was first at the door, attacking it with lock picks, tools rarely held by policemen. “I used a single-digit rake and tension bar,” he explained in a 1988 deposition.

After his conviction, Wilson sued the city, saying he’d been tortured by Burge and detectives under his command. He wasn’t the first former suspect to make this accusation, and scores have been uncovered since. Wilson said Burge wired him up to a black box and turned a crank that generated an electric shock. This technique bore a striking resemblance to what American troops in Vietnam called “the Bell telephone hour”–shocking prisoners by means of a hand-cranked army field phone. In defending himself against Wilson’s suit he said he’d never seen a black box, and though he’d served as a military policeman in the Mekong delta in 1968 and ’69 had never heard of field phone interrogations. He bristled at the suggestion that Americans in Vietnam had conducted them.

Burge’s peers from the Ninth Military Police Company, however, remember such torture in considerable detail.

Jon Graham Burge was born on December 20, 1947. In 1989 he told the Reader that his father had a blue-collar job with the phone company and that his mother, a sometime model, wrote a fashion column for the Chicago Daily News, organized fashion shows, and once wrote a book in the “dress for success” vein. The family lived in a modest duplex at 9612 S. Luella in Merrionette Manor, an all-white postwar housing development on the southeast side.

Burge attended Luella Public School, now called Robert H. Lawrence after the first African-American astronaut, and Bowen High School, graduating in 1965. Yearbooks show he was active with the fire marshals and in the Key Club, a service organization that collected more than 900 cans of food for poor South Chicago families in 1964. Burge’s primary interest, however, seems to have been the school’s Reserve Officer Training Corps.

According to e-mail from Ron Buzil, a member of the Bowen ROTC from 1964 to 1968 and later an infantry captain in Korea, the program was run by two army sergeants. Activities consisted of “drill, familiarity with weapons . . . leadership, army history and lore, sports, and more drill.” The cadets took target practice on a rifle range in the school’s basement, firing an assortment of rifles and handguns, which were kept in a vault.

If newspaper coverage is any indication, the local community thought more of the Bowen ROTC than almost any other group or team at the high school. Burge appeared on the front page of the Daily Calumet five times during his senior year in articles about or photos of the ROTC. His final report card shows him to have been a good student, his best grades scored in the ROTC.

Despite his promise, Burge lasted just one semester at the University of Missouri. He told me in 1989 that he’d enjoyed himself too much to study. He moved back in with his parents in 1966 and went to work as a stock clerk at a south-side Jewel. That July, Richard Speck entered a town house a few blocks from Burge’s home and within shouting distance of his grammar school and murdered eight student nurses. In August Martin Luther King Jr. marched on the southeast side, holding prayer vigils outside real estate offices on South Ewing. The marchers were pelted with rocks, bricks, bottles, beer cans, apples, and firecrackers.

In those days, American men who flunked out of college faced serious consequences–the end of their student draft deferments. While Burge labored as a stock clerk, American troops were dying in Vietnam at a rate of 477 per month. In June 1966 Burge enlisted in the army reserve, committing himself to six years of service, including two on active duty. In a form filed that fall, shortly before he reported for basic training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he indicated that he had been promised law enforcement duties. His eventual goal, he would testify in a 1989 deposition, was to join the Chicago Police Department.

Army records describe the 18-year-old recruit as red-haired, blue-eyed, six feet two inches tall, 210 pounds, a member of the Congregational Church, interested in cars and baseball. After basic training, he and 98 other soldiers spent four weeks at Fort McClellen’s drill corporal school in Alabama (only one other student scored better than Burge did in the course) and eight weeks at a military police school in Georgia. He became a trainer of MPs and then served as an MP in Korea, gathering five letters of appreciation from superiors that praised his loyalty, devotion to duty, outstanding performance, military bearing, appearance, attention to detail, tact, and extra effort. On June 18, 1968, with antiwar sentiment escalating back home and city officials bracing for what would be a violent Democratic convention, Burge volunteered for Vietnam. He arrived there in November as a sergeant.

Burge was assigned to the Ninth Military Police Company of the Ninth Infantry Division. He reported to division headquarters, which had moved three months earlier to a barren 600-acre island that the army had created from marshland about 50 miles southwest of Saigon. General William Westmoreland, commander of American forces in Vietnam, had named the base Dong Tam, which meant “united hearts and minds.” The delta region was a maze of rivers, canals, and streams subject to seasonal flooding, and among its rice fields, swamps, rubber plantations, and dense jungle were more than 1,600 hamlets. More than 15,000 troops were assembled there, many of them moving around by boat.

According to operational reports filed in 1969, there were also 3,500 Vietnamese civilians working on the base, a fair number of them of suspect allegiance.

The Ninth Military Police Company averaged about 200 members during Burge’s tour in Vietnam, some posted to the division base camp at Dong Tam, others to supporting firebases around the delta (Tan An, Tigers Lair, and Moore among them). Most veterans I interviewed had experience at both a firebase and at headquarters. The company had a broad range of responsibilities. At Dong Tam, they investigated crimes committed by soldiers and vehicle accidents on local roads, stood guard at the division’s tactical operations center, manned the main gate, and provided security for visiting celebrities.

Some Ninth MP members were detailed to combat duty–reconnaissance patrols, escorting convoys and vehicles, providing security for intelligence sweeps and medical missions in the hamlets–all of it hazardous in the delta, where the Vietcong laid ambushes, planted booby traps, and mined roads. The VC regularly attacked Dong Tam with mortars and rockets, and it was also the MPs’ duty to find out where they’d landed and help with damage control, casualty treatment, and evacuation. Locating an impact area had to be done quickly so return fire could be directed, and this put MPs in considerable danger, out and about before the shelling might have stopped.

During one such shelling in January 1969, one MP was killed and twelve others were wounded. Burge was given the Army Commendation Medal for his efforts that night. The general order announcing the award reads, “When his company area came under intense enemy mortar attack, Sergeant Burge, at the risk of his own life, repeatedly braved the flying shrapnel to evacuate wounded troops and fought the fires caused by the incoming rounds.”

The MPs were also responsible for processing, guarding, escorting, and transporting prisoners. Chicago defense attorneys representing victims of the Burge crew have long wondered whether this duty introduced Burge to the interrogation methods that showed up at Area Two.

Members of the Ninth MP Company manned POW holding centers at the base camps and division headquarters, and a boat that carried prisoners from the countryside to Dong Tam. Not all the prisoners were enemy soldiers. Some were civilians, many of them innocent, detained in sweeps. According to a Ninth Infantry operational report from early 1969, there were 1,507 detainees interrogated in the three-month period starting on November 1, 1968. The questioning was done by the division’s Military Intelligence unit with Vietnamese translators. Former Ninth Infantry MPs I interviewed said they were sometimes present during interviews and at other times stood guard nearby.

Burge has insisted that he never guarded prisoners, and in a September 1988 deposition he said he had no idea where they were interrogated. Before the Chicago Police Board in March 1992, he described his role with the MPs as “escort of convoys, security for forward support bases, supervising security for the divisional central base camp in Dong Tam, and I finished my tour as a provost marshal investigator.” A company roster of key personnel as of January 31, 1969, lists Burge as head of the traffic section, but he clearly moved on to other duties: the next report has someone else in that post.

Burge’s insistence that he didn’t know where prisoners were interrogated seems peculiar. According to Edwin Freeman, the company commander during part of Burge’s tour, the interrogation rooms at Dong Tam were adjacent to the POW compound and 20 steps from the MP command post. Prisoners were questioned individually in one of five interrogation rooms, and MPs escorted them back and forth. Freeman says the compound could hold 300 prisoners and at times was full. Given the statistics in the available Ninth Infantry operational reports, it’s likely that several thousand prisoners were moved back and forth between the compound and the interrogation room during Burge’s tour of duty. Would a man praised by his superiors in Korea for his “attention to detail” and “extra effort,” who would go on to become such a resourceful detective, not notice his fellow MPs moving handcuffed detainees–the enemy–back and forth, perhaps a hundred trips or more on some days? Would he not know that prisoners were being interrogated 20 steps from the MP command post?

Burge has also insisted, under oath, that he never heard any talk about brutality in the treatment of prisoners, that he never heard any allegations of such brutality, that he never heard of the use of electric shock on Vietnamese detainees.

My attempts to locate Ninth MP Company veterans whose service approximated or overlapped Burge’s turned up several others who said they’d never seen a prisoner abused. Former deputy provost marshal Ray Merrill, now responsible for the training of General Motors security officers, was a 25-year-old captain when he served with the Ninth MPs at Dong Tam in 1968. Merrill told me he classified reports of field telephone torture as “urban legends.”

Merrill, who was outraged by the abuses committed by MPs at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year, says he would have given no quarter to anyone abusing prisoners. “If you wouldn’t want it done to you, you wouldn’t want it done to somebody else. Period. Anybody that operates beyond that would be subject to the same law that everybody else is subject to.”

Philip Ash, provost marshal of the Ninth MPs during most of Burge’s tour, said he’d received no reports of any such torture of prisoners during his year of service from May 1968 to May 1969. He said his compound at Dong Tam was inspected regularly, and he thought it was one of the better-run facilities in Vietnam.

“Would I have been informed if there was something going wrong like that? I think maybe I would have, but I can’t guarantee it,” said Ash, who retired from the army as a colonel and served three cities as police chief. “You know, I think I was pretty much a straight arrow, and I don’t know what that contributed to what I heard and what I didn’t hear. There was in my mind always the possibility that I was not getting all of the information that I should get. There is always the potential for a gap between what the boss knows and what is happening.”

Ash and his deputy, Merrill, topped the Ninth MPs’ chain of command. Officers and enlisted men who’d served under Ash as company commander, executive officer, lieutenant, and sergeant all told the Reader they’d heard of or witnessed field phone interrogations. These men, some outranking Burge and others beneath him, told stories set both at outlying firebases and at Dong Tam.

Former lieutenant David Rudoi, now 66 and living in Florida, immediately recognized a description of the abuse that Burge has been accused of at Area Two. “What you are talking about here, overseas in Vietnam, a lot of that went on,” Rudoi said. “Can I tell you a little story? We were building this POW compound out at firebase Moore, a brand-new base. A patrol went out in front to a village and settled in. In the middle of the night they all got zapped. The villagers didn’t tell them that Charlie was around them. They just let these people go and 11 people died. Eleven guys. Next morning, Americans went out and brought in all the villagers. They also had Vietnamese soldiers with them. . . . And to get information from these people . . . they wired them up, and they did it in one of the buildings that we built.”

While the interrogation was going on, Rudoi said, he was putting up wire outside the building. “Soldiers that were bringing stuff in and out was telling us what was going on. And then almost at the same time–remember Jimmy Stewart, the actor? He come in on two choppers on a glad-handing tour, and he come in basically just about this time. He come walking through shaking hands. When he walked up to where we were at and got to talking to us, for some reason or another he wanted to look at the inside of the building, and we kind of had to steer him away from the building because we didn’t, you know–just don’t know nothin’, don’t want to see nothin’, that’s it. But at that point, as far as we were concerned, after all those Americans died, it really didn’t make any difference. But it happened a lot. . . . I just didn’t want to know. My people didn’t want to know. That was it, basically.

“But I can understand, if they did something like that and they were trying to get some fast information, that was the way to do it.”

Dennis Carstens, a draftee who served as specialist fourth class with the Ninth MPs, returned to the U.S. on Thanksgiving Day 1969 after 14 months in Vietnam. He spent part of his tour at firebase Tigers Lair, where the MPs, two interrogators from Military Intelligence, and the interpreters all lived in the same bunker. It was the custom there, he said, for MPs to be present during interrogations. “We would pretty much do anything as long as we didn’t leave scars on the people,” Carstens said. Field phone interrogations were common, he said. The device gave “a pretty good jolt, kind of like if you’ve ever had an electric fence charge.”

Carstens, now a postman in Minnesota, also served as a guard at Dong Tam, where he said that in addition to watching for escape attempts the MPs had to protect the prisoners from GIs. “It wasn’t unusual for our MP area to get CS’d [teargassed] from grunts thinking they were getting the POWs, ‘the gooks.’ They would get us gassed as well.”

Former sergeant D.J. Lewis, who served with the Ninth MPs from February 1968 to January 1969, said field phone interrogations were “not uncommon.” Lewis, who retired last year from his job as an engineer at a VA hospital in Wisconsin, spent part of his tour at firebase Tan An, where he was among the MPs present during the questioning of a group of Vietcong in a tent away from the base. “We were attached to this field unit out there, and they would take them in and they had a kind of large tent, and they would tie them up to the poles right in the center there, their hands behind them and their feet strapped to the pole. And they would give them treatment, and it was not uncommon for them to rig up a field telephone and put one [wire] around a finger and the other around the scrotum and start cranking. And they would eventually tell you what you wanted to know . . .

“It was Military Intelligence that done it, them and the ARVNs [the Army of the Republic of Vietnam]. The ARVNs are the ones that hooked the wire up and did the cranking, but it was with the blessing of the MI.”

Was it painful? “Oh, hell yes, it’s painful. I mean, you can hold the two wires and barely crank it and get a jolt. The more you crank the higher the voltage, and it’s DC voltage, so that’s more intense shock.”

Were the interrogators at all leery about MPs observing what went on?

“They didn’t really seem to mind. They didn’t want anybody else to see it, you know, but I guess since we were supposed to be, you know, we would keep our mouth shut, I guess, for lack of a better explanation. They wouldn’t let anyone else in, though, and we actually escorted the prisoners in and out.”

Wasn’t MI taking a chance that an MP would file charges?

“It would have been my word against an officer’s word, which the officer is always going to win. So what do you do? And at that time CID [Criminal Investigation Division] and Military Intelligence, they were held in the highest regard, they could walk on the clouds.”

So if some MP got it in his head to report the incident, what would happen to him?

“It would probably be swept under the rug, and he would either be sent to another duty station or put on shit duty the rest of the time–KP, picking up cigarette butts–anything they can think of that can keep him quiet and keep him in a certain place. Usually what they did, they sent him to a different destination. There were some instances where the guys came back to the States or wound up in Korea. There was a lieutenant, can’t think of his name, and he knew that there was a black market going on, and he started investigating it and he got close to them in Saigon in the upper echelon, and he wound up being a prisoner escort at Fort Leavenworth. He would come back to Vietnam, pick up prisoner GIs, and take them back to Leavenworth. That was his function in the army. It’s kind of degrading from where he was. And that happened rapidly. It didn’t take any time. ‘Well, here, you’re going to Leavenworth, pack your bags, be on the next plane out.’”

Former company commander Edwin Freeman said that MPs at Dong Tam brought prisoners to interrogation rooms and stayed during the questioning, but did no interrogating themselves. (Two members of the company who served at Dong Tam recalled MPs standing guard outside the interrogation rooms. It’s possible that procedures varied with interrogators and over time. According to David Rudoi, at firebase Moore it was up to the interrogator.) Asked about the use of field phones as torture devices in interrogations, Freeman said, “It was common, but it was not common with my people.” When asked to define “common,” he said, “Well, common is a bad word–I shouldn’t have said that. I have heard of it happening, I had one observation of it happening, and I put a stop to it.”

Freeman, a police officer in Portland, Oregon, before and after his Vietnam service, said the incident he heard about was reported by one of his guards, but no one was punished because Freeman didn’t know who the perpetrator was. He said he called a meeting of the MI interrogators and “made it clear that it wasn’t going to happen in my cage. I was a professional cop. My training was not to do that to people, even if they are combatants. They are just soldiers like we were.”

A Red Cross team visited the Dong Tam POW compound in June 1968, five months before Burge arrived. They met with Freeman, other Ninth Infantry officers, and three prisoners. According to their report, the prisoners complained of having been slapped when captured. The Red Cross team, however, held that the officer in charge of the compound wasn’t responsible for what might have been done to a prisoner in the field at the time he was detained. They concluded that the compound met all the Geneva Convention requirements, and that they were “well satisfied with their visit.”

But Philip Wolever, an army Ranger who served as executive officer of the Ninth MPs after Freeman left, believes field phone torture at the division base camp at Dong Tam was probably common. Wolever was in Vietnam from May 1968 to May 1969, and after being wounded with four or five months left in his tour he was named the company’s executive officer–third in command behind the provost marshal and company commander. Wolever said he then invited himself in to observe an interrogation. He saw the field phone put to use.

“I am closing my eyes trying to visualize that room,” he said. “But the pain, I know it is strong enough to where after a couple jolts you can fake a crank because the victim would be looking right at you, and the guy would go into convulsions.” Told that Andrew Wilson had come out of Chicago police custody with marks on his ears in the shape of alligator clips, Wolever said, “The contacts were attached to breasts, testicles. I don’t think I ever saw an ear.”

As a reconnaissance platoon leader Wolever had become familiar with the emotions and perceptions that accompany field operations. At firebase Tigers Lair, he said, it wasn’t uncommon to find that soldiers in the lead element had used their rifle butts on the people they captured. “I have seen them with broken cheeks and broken arms, and you know, that is understandable,” he said.

“I heard one report–and again, this is just a report. If I had witnessed it I would have pressed charges–[that] a hammer was used to interrogate a female prisoner. It was placed right in the vagina. And something like that you just do not do. I mean a field telephone, if it wasn’t overused–I’d have used it because, I mean, in the field, if you had contact, if somebody was just shooting at you, you’d want information. The field telephone is, you know, I think on the lower end of the list of things that probably was used.”

This isn’t to say that the use of a field telephone as a torture device was peculiar to members of the Ninth Infantry and their ARVN translators. Veterans from other units have admitted taking part in electrical interrogations. (See, for example, “Infantry Officer by Trade, Intelligence Officer by Accident,” a boastful account online by marine vet Dick Culver of a 1967 interrogation in which the Vietnamese suspect was forced to turn the crank himself.) In a 1971 report to President Nixon on war crimes allegations, the army’s judge advocate general, Kenneth Hodson, said that Vietnamese had been tortured with electrical devices “on occasion.” Security forces of other nations have used the device, and Philip Ash, the former Ninth MP Company provost marshal, said he’d heard stories of Americans inflicting such torture during World War II and the Korean war.

Americans captured in Vietnam were commonly tortured. But though it is typical of torturers–both individuals and nations–to defend themselves by saying that someone else is doing or has done something worse, that’s not the human-rights standard to which U.S. military and police forces are held. “To use a field telephone to interrogate somebody is a grave breach of the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to prisoners of war,” said Gary Solis. In a recent interview, Solis, a Vietnam veteran, Georgetown University law professor, and historian of Vietnam-era courts-martial, went on to call a field phone interview “a war crime, punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice as aggravated assault.”

Larry Booker, a private with the Ninth MP Company from August 1968 to August 1969, spent most of his time on reconnaissance missions. In an interview last spring he said he had no direct knowledge of field phone interviews but had certainly heard of them. In subsequent e-mail he added, “It would not take much effort however for someone like Burge to pick up this knowledge even if he were not directly involved. It’s not rocket science. . . .

“While I find what Burge is alleged to have done reprehensible, I am equally disturbed by the impression it leaves that we were all somehow involved in this behavior. It further perpetuates the perception of the Vietnam vet as either a pathetic character or something worse who can’t move beyond those experiences. The vast majority of us simply did our jobs there as best we could to survive and get on with our lives.”

In June 1969 President Nixon announced large-scale troop withdrawals from Vietnam. Ninth Infantry troops were among the first to leave, and Dong Tam was turned over to South Vietnamese forces. Burge was honorably discharged on August 25, 1969. He returned to his parents’ home in Merrionette Manor, took a job as a mechanic and gas station attendant, and watched his old neighborhood change from white to black.

A rapid and bitter population shift was under way. Bowen High School, which had been 93 percent white when Burge graduated in 1965, was only 36 percent white in 1970 and 14 percent white in 1972. Burge’s neighbors joined the flight. According to Fred Boland, a retired fireman and former president of the Manors’ Community Assembly, the first African-Americans moved into Merrionette and adjacent Jeffery Manor in 1966 or 1967, and the two communities were predominantly black by 1971. Burge’s parents sold their home in 1973.

While working at the gas station in 1969, Burge applied to the police department. Detective Joseph Martin, assigned to conduct the department’s customary background check, praised the applicant as neat, polite, honest, well built, and a pleasure to deal with. “It may appear I went overboard for this young man,” Martin said, “and he is all man.”

Burge became a police officer in March 1970. In November 1971 the Third District commander recommended him and his partner for an outstanding-performance award given by the Jaycees. The press took notice of the young officer in January 1972, after he saved a 22-year-old African-American woman in Woodlawn from committing suicide. An instant before she squeezed the trigger, Burge jammed his thumb into the firing mechanism.

Four months later, after little more than two years on the job, the 24-year-old Burge was promoted to detective and assigned to Area Two Robbery. Area Two covers a large swath of the far south side from the lake to Cicero Avenue, an area that included Burge’s high school and his parents’ home.

The total number of men tortured by Burge and detectives under his command will probably never be known. The People’s Law Office has a chronological list of more than 60 alleged victims from 1972 to 1991. It was provided to special prosecutor Edward Egan in 2002, and Egan, appointed to investigate the torture allegations, has added other names. His list, which has not been made public, has grown to 118.

In the People’s Law Office chronology, the first to receive electrical treatment was Anthony “Satan” Holmes, now 59 and serving a 75-year sentence in the Dixon Correctional Center. Holmes says he was tortured with a hand-cranked device after his arrest in 1973. According to police documents, Holmes was a leader of the Royal Family, a gang formed in prison that specialized in armed robbery. He was arrested by Area Two detectives Michael Hoke, William Wagner, and Burge and charged with the murder of Joe Murphy, a prospective witness in a murder case against Holmes’s brother-in-law. Attorney William Murphy, who represented Holmes, remembers him as a “tough guy,” a weight-lifting champion “built like Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

In a statement given to People’s Law Office attorney Flint Taylor last spring, Holmes said he was taken to an Area Two interrogation room, where detectives put a plastic bag over his head. Holmes said that after he bit through the bag in order to breathe, Burge put a second bag over the first. Holmes told Taylor that he remembered hearing a crank turning and Burge saying, “You going to talk, nigger, you going to talk.”

“It feel like a thousand needles going through my body,” Holmes said. “And then after that, it just feel like, you know–it feel like something just burning me from inside, and um, I shook, I gritted, I hollered, then I passed out. . . . They put the bag back on me, took me through the same thing again. They did that I don’t know how many times. . . . I said to myself, ‘Man, he trying to kill me.’ And I thought I was dead because all I could see was blackness, and I said, ‘Man, this is it. I’m gone.’ When I looked up, they brought me back again. Burge was the one that was . . . bringing me back. Every time I come to, he be the one standing over me.

“But the point is, when you see police doing you like this here and there’s nobody there to help you, you like, ‘Man, is this real?’ You know it can’t be real. . . . But then you realize it ain’t no dream state because you started feeling this pain, just like somebody stabbing you in your heart, you know, and you fixing to die, but you won’t die. You just still there. . . . Ain’t nothing like it. It’s just like, you know, just diving in some water that’s ice-cold and it hits you at one time and it take your breath away and you get pain. It freezes you up. It’s just like somebody just cut away everything that’s inside you and there’s nothing to hold you back. . . . When they got through with me, I didn’t care what it was–if they said I killed Bob or the president or anybody, I would say, ‘Yeah, how do you want me to say this? This the way I did it? Yeah, this the way I did it.’ . . .

“When I tried to tell people that they did me like this, ain’t nobody want to listen to me. When I go to the parole board, I tell them the same thing. They look at me like, you know, ‘You got jailhouse slick.’”

According to a commendation the three detectives received, Holmes gave a statement admitting “his guilt in the murder and numerous other unsolved felonies. In addition, he implicated many members of the Royal Family who were also involved in the crimes. . . . They were charged with numerous felonies, including five murders and an armed robbery in which an off-duty police officer was shot.”

Holmes’s confession, given to an assistant state’s attorney in Burge’s presence, ran more than 40 pages. It offered incriminating statements about tavern robberies and crimes having nothing to do with the Murphy murder. The department commendation praised Burge, Hoke, and Wagner for their “skillful questioning.”

Accounts of electroshock torture by police in large American cities are rare, and the cases that have surfaced in the last 25 years typically involve stun guns, Tasers, and stun belts. As those weapons belong to some law enforcement arsenals, it seems safe to conclude that spontaneity and impulsiveness might figure in their abuse. The devices used under Burge at Area Two, however, included a cattle prod, a field telephone, and an unidentified instrument that plugged into a wall outlet (see sidebar). They suggest planning and considered intent. Reed College political science professor Darius Rejali, a historian of torture methods and author of the forthcoming Torture and Democracy (Princeton University Press), said cattle prod use by U.S. law enforcement authorities first came to public attention in 1963, when Alabama troopers and policemen openly used prods on civil rights demonstrators. New York Times reporter Austin Wehrwein purposely shocked himself on the palm with one. He wrote that the shock “felt as strong as that from a home electric light socket,” that he jumped a foot, that the two prongs left painful marks that lasted more than a half hour, and that his arm ached afterward. Those who allegedly used the device at Area Two were accused of targeting the genital area, not the hand.

Extrapolating from the number of excessive-force complaints filed against Chicago police over the last ten years (roughly 2,800 a year), it seems likely that far more than a million complaints of excessive force have been filed against law enforcement and prison authorities in the U.S. in the last 40 years. Yet there have been only a handful of reports of authorities using cattle prods on human beings. Professor Rejali says that when complaints about cattle prod use have surfaced, typically the device was alleged to have been used to control, move, or punish prisoners or demonstrators. The Burge crew used the prod to extort confessions–and in that, Rejali says, they were pioneers.

As for police use of a hand-cranked generator on suspects–that’s virtually unheard-of except in Chicago.

Prison authorities at the Tucker State Prison Farm in Arkansas used such a device to torture inmates until the mid-1960s (it was referred to as the “Tucker telephone”). But national authorities on excessive force, including Professor Rejali, New York University law professor Paul Chevigny, University of California criminology professor Richard Leo, and Allyson Collins, who wrote a 1998 Human Rights Watch report on U.S. police brutality, were unable to name a single other instance in which such a device was used by police officers in the U.S. in the last half century.

In the 18 years that followed Holmes’s interrogation, electrical torture gave way to other means to the same ends in Chicago. At Area Two, the three electrical devices seem to have been retired in 1984, around the time that a defense attorney told local reporters that Area Two detectives were using a black box to attack the genitals of suspects. The plastic bag, which in Holmes’s statement seemed an accessory to electric shock, later became a primary tool. The shock devices, however, were what did Burge in.

On the witness stand in 1989, Andrew Wilson seemed untroubled by having been beaten. It was the electric shock that seemed to feed his determination to proceed with his civil suit. The trial prompted someone to send anonymous letters in police department envelopes to the People’s Law Office, which was representing Wilson. The letters said that “almost all of the detectives and police officers involved” knew Wilson had committed the murders but did “not approve of the beatings and torture.” The letters went on to say “Burge hates black people” and that “he was always present, the machines and the plastic bags were his and he is the person who encouraged their use. You will find that the people with him were either weak and easily led or sadists.” The letter writer, who seemed highly knowledgeable about Burge, his gang of torturers, and those who did and didn’t belong to it, told the lawyers to talk to a Cook County jail inmate named Melvin Jones. Jones said he’d been given electric shock nine days before Wilson was arrested. The People’s Law Office located the transcript of Jones’s testimony about the interrogation. In it Jones said that Burge had mentioned two members of the Royal Family as having received the same electrical treatment. Those men led the lawyers to other victims, and eventually the notion that Wilson had made up his story became so untenable that even the city of Chicago’s attorneys acknowledged that electric shock had taken place. Burge was fired in 1993.

Burge declined to be interviewed for this story. In September he was deposed at length in four civil suits and one parole board hearing, cases involving five men who said they’d been tortured by Area Two detectives. He gave his name, said he’d worked for the police department, agreed that he’d received a subpoena to testify, and responded to all further questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Over the course of the past eight months, 30 other men who served with and under Burge have also taken the Fifth in depositions for the same cases. Thus far, all have been white. (James Sotos, who represents Burge and other Chicago police officers in one of those civil suits, claims the officers were willing to testify until he told them not to.)

However, four black officers who served at Area Two with Burge have recently given sworn statements providing new information about the Burge era. Former detective Melvin Duncan, who worked at Area Two from 1971 to 1978, gave the People’s Law Office’s Flint Taylor an affidavit saying he’d seen a dark wooden box in the Robbery Unit office when Burge served there. The box, he said, reminded him of a hand-cranked electrical device his father had made and had demonstrated by giving him and his brother “little shocks.” Duncan’s sworn statement also says, “While working at Area 2, I heard that certain Robbery detectives used an electrical box and cattle prods on people to get confessions from them.”

Sammy Lacey Jr., now an attorney, worked as a detective in Area Two for about seven years, moving on to the Seventh District in 1988 when he was promoted to sergeant. In a sworn statement on October 12, Lacey said that even officers outside the unit noticed that detectives on Burge’s “A team,” most of whom worked the midnight shift, seemed to be getting a lot of confessions. There seemed to be a certain recognition, he said, “that something was not going right on the midnights.”

Lacey noted that the black detectives who worked under Burge in the Violent Crimes unit were not assigned homicides. “Every time he would give us our detective division evaluations, we would always be rated low. I don’t care what we did, how many arrests we made, he would always throw this in our faces, that ‘you didn’t do any homicides.’ [We’d say,] ‘But you didn’t assign homicides to blacks.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s your problem,’ or something like that.”

In those years, low efficiency ratings put a detective’s job in jeopardy, and Lacey recalled that the black detectives were always the lowest rated. He said that in 1983 they complained to Burge’s immediate superior, future police superintendent LeRoy Martin, about how they were being treated. The sole result, Lacey said, was that they were chewed out by Burge for taking their complaints up the chain of command. Martin did not return calls for comment.

In a sworn statement on November 9, retired sergeant Doris Byrd, who had been Lacey’s partner at Area Two Violent Crimes in the early 80s, recalled that black detectives were given unsolvable and unnewsworthy cases, and that their names were ranked lowest on the efficiency reports until Deputy Chief James O’Reilly interceded on their behalf.

Byrd said that she could hear screaming coming from interview rooms while Burge’s A team was on duty. She said suspects told her they had been beaten with a telephone book and had had bags put over their heads. She said she had not seen the black box, but had heard that it was “running rampantly through the little unit up there.”

When asked why she hadn’t said anything about this before, she replied, “We would have been frozen out of the police system. We would have been ostracized. We definitely wouldn’t have made rank. We probably would have been stuck in some do-nothing assignment.”

Byrd cited the example of Area Two Violent Crimes detective Frank Laverty, legendary within the department for testifying against his colleagues in the case of George Jones. Jones, the teenage son of an African-American Chicago police officer, was put on trial for a 1981 murder though Laverty had uncovered exculpatory information and had submitted a memo to his commanding officer naming a more likely culprit. Laverty was on leave when he learned Jones was on trial, and he came forward, revealed his role in the case, testified in Jones’s defense, and thereafter was ostracized at Area Two. When Laverty requested a transfer, he was moved to police headquarters and assigned the job of watching police recruits give urine samples.

Byrd recalled a day when she was in a room with Burge and other detectives, and Laverty was present, looking for a file. “When he left the room,” Byrd said, “Burge drew his weapon and pointed it at the back of Laverty and said ‘Bang.’”

Retired officer Walter Young, who served with the Chicago police for nearly 36 years, also worked as a detective under Burge in the early 80s. In a sworn statement given to Taylor on November 2, Young said he had no problem with his efficiency ratings during the decade he worked as a detective before coming to Area Two, but once there his ratings plummeted and he was ultimately busted down to patrolman. Young said he took an ostrich approach to the brutality, that when he thought something might happen he would “vanish.” He particularly didn’t want to be around when Andrew Wilson came out of the interrogation room. He said he had seen a hand-cranked device in the basement of Area Two but didn’t know what it was at the time. He wasn’t told the specifics of the techniques then in use, he said, but he heard them referred to as the “Vietnam special” or the “Vietnamese treatment.”

The Mysterious Third Device

Jon Burge and detectives under his command have been accused of using three electrical devices to torture suspects at Area Two–a cattle prod, a hand-cranked device, and a mysterious third appliance that plugged into a wall outlet. This third instrument was described by at least six men tortured between 1973 and 1984. They said it had been placed either on or up their rectum or against their exposed genitals. Some described it as a metal rod or prong attached by a cord to a black box.

The device was dismissed as “nonexistent, unbelievable, unfunctional, unreal” by William Kunkle, who represented Burge at the 1992 Police Board hearings that ended in Burge’s dismissal. Kunkle argued that a device that plugged into the wall as the victims described would deliver 110 volts of alternating current at a frequency of 60 hertz. That charge might leave no marks, Kunkle said, but it might also kill the recipient.

I recently located two museum curators who specialize in electrical equipment (one wishes to remain anonymous) and read them descriptions of the devices provided by Andrew Wilson and Melvin Jones, two men who claimed to have been shocked in February 1982. The curators concluded separately that each man was describing a violet ray machine. It’s a device that plugs into a wall outlet and is sold today as a “violet wand” to those who engage in BDSM–bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism.

Marketed as a medical device for much of the last century, the machine used a Tesla coil to transform ordinary household current into a high-voltage, high-frequency, low-amperage output that can safely be applied to human skin. The old kits came with two types of electrodes–glass and metal. When sparks passed through the glass tube, the air inside glowed violet–hence the name of the device. Many of the devices were sold with multiple electrodes of different shapes (kits made for doctors might contain two dozen, some meant for insertion into bodily orifices). The metal electrodes could be adjusted to provide sharp shocks.

Jeff Behary, curator of the Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum, a Web site, said that the machines began as legitimate medical devices for treating skin problems and for relieving pain (they could provide heat under the skin without burning, and the ozone they gave off was supposed to kill bacteria). In time, manufacturers claimed that their instruments were effective against a wide range of ailments–asthma, catarrh, lumbago, nervous disorders, gonorrhea, prostate and vaginal problems, and “female hysteria” among them. According to Behary, between 1900 and 1939 more than three dozen companies, some offering a dozen models, produced hundreds of thousands of the devices. Many of the machines were housed in dark wooden boxes. Thus, it is entirely possible that Burge had two electrical instruments–a hand-cranked generator and a violet ray machine–that could each be called a black box.

In 1951, with the industry long past its prime, the FDA charged an Indiana firm with misbranding its violet ray machines as medical cures and confiscated the devices. According to Behary, a Chicago firm still markets the appliance for use in testing neon signs and other tubing for leaks.

As erotic toys, the devices have grown in popularity since at least the mid-1970s, when they could be purchased at flea markets, antique shops, and beauty supply stores (the machine had been used on bald men to stimulate circulation in the scalp). Eclectic Electric, a company that sells both new and antique devices on the Internet, advertises its violet wands as providing a range of sensations, “from lush tingles to sharp shocks to simulating the feelings of burning and cutting. . . . They pretty much feel like a jolt of static electricity.” The vintage wands “pack a more powerful punch,” and on the Web site’s intensity scale, the metal probe sits alone at the top. It “conducts the charge directly to your subject without diluting it.”

At a 1985 hearing, Leonard Hinton described being taken to the basement at Area Two two years earlier. He said his hands were handcuffed above his head, his pants and shorts were pulled down, his ankles were handcuffed to a pole so his legs were spread, and then “the officer with the mustache and with the glasses with the black hair, he came in with a rod, and one was carrying a box, a black box. . . . There was a cord to the long rod. . . . The handle on it was black and they plugged the wire into the box. . . . Then they put something in my mouth . . . it was cloth . . . and they tied it so I couldn’t holler. . . . Then they took the rod, long part, and they placed it under my genitals. . . . [It was] a pain out of this world. I couldn’t describe it. . . . They said, ‘Are you ready to talk yet?’ The other said, ‘I don’t think he’s ready to talk yet.’ He hit me with it again. . . . Then . . . he touched it in the crack of my rectum. . . . Then he took that [cloth] out of my mouth. I said, ‘I am ready to talk. Tell me what you want me to say, sir. Please stop.’”

John Conroy’s e-mail address is

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bettman/Corbis


Figure in Chicago police-torture cases admits to 1990 murder

Cortez Brown gets 40 years in prison


May 10, 2010

By RUMMANA HUSSAIN Criminal Courts Reporter /

A man who says that he was beaten into confessing to a pair of killings by detectives working under disgraced former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge pleaded guilty to one of the 1990 murders today — even though he still insists he is innocent.

Flint Taylor, one of Cortez Brown’s lawyers, claimed his client only pleaded guilty to murdering Curtis Sims so Brown could start a new life as a free man as soon as possible.

» Click to enlarge image

Cortez Brown was sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to the gang-related murder of Curtis Sims in 1990.

While Cook County Judge Clayton Crane sentenced Brown to 40 years in prison today for the murder, he could be eligible for early release in September since he has already served nearly two decades in prison for the slaying.

Brown, 39, didn’t make any statements before he was sentenced this morning in the plea agreement reached with prosecutors, who dropped murder charges against Brown in what police called another 1990 gang-related murder of a second man, Delvin Boelter.

Taylor said Brown, who also goes by the name Victor Safforld, made a “practical decision” by pleading guilty, explaining that he could have spent more time in jail awaiting trials.

However, at today’s hearing, Assistant Attorney General Vincenzo Chimera presented evidence linking Brown to Sims’ murder, specifically pointing to a 9mm Taurus used in the shooting that was purchased by Brown’s mother just weeks before.

Brown, an admitted former Gangster Disciple street gang member, maintains he is innocent in both murders. He said he only confessed after detectives beat him with their fists and steel flashlights.

“Even today, I’m still afraid these officers may do something to my family or have something done to me while I’m in jail,” Brown told Crane last year.

Brown initially was sentenced to 35 years in prison for Boelter’s murder. He was later convicted and sentenced to death in 1992 for killing Sims, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison by former Gov. George Ryan.

Last year, Crane overturned Brown’s conviction in the Sims murder and granted him a new trial, citing “staggering” and “damning” new evidence that he was tortured. Crane granted him a new trial in the Boelter case last month.

Burge’s federal trial on perjury and obstruction charges is scheduled to begin later this month.,figure-in-police-torture-case-admits-murder-051010.article


Ex-Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge: Move my perjury trial out of Chicago

CPD commander accused of torture wants trial moved

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Former Chicago Police Department commander Jon Burge leaves the Federal Courthouse after he was released from custody Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 21, 2008 in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)


By: Ann Pistone and Chuck Goudie

April 5, 2010 (CHICAGO) (WLS) — Having his case publically compared to the government’s trial against Al Capone, former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge is asking a federal judge to move his perjury trial out of Chicago.

In a motion filed today, Burge’s attorney stated that recently a “publicity campaign” mounted by plaintiff’s lawyer G. Flint Taylor exposed potential jurors to prejudicial publicity. Burge says he cannot get a fair trial here.

Taylor was interviewed by three Chicago media outlets last week which, according to defense attorney Richard Beuke “comes on the heels of the jury qualification letter being sent out to prospective jurors.”

Related Content

More: View Burge’s motion for a change of venue (pdf)

It is rare for a judge to grant a change of venue. This is the second time Burge has filed such a request. In April of 2009, Burge said he would not receive a fair trial “due to the pervasive, prejudicial pretrial publicity”. U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow denied his motion exactly three months later.

Burge, who is 62 and lives in Florida, is scheduled to go on trial May 24th. He is charged with obstruction of justice and perjury. Prosecutors say Burge lied under oath in a 2003 lawsuit when he denied torturing black suspects into confessions in the 1970s and 1980s.

Burge has pleaded not guilty and denies knowledge of any torture

Chicago: Jail Jon Burge, Terrorist Cop

Thursday, May 20 2010 @ 09:44 PM UTC

Contributed by: Oread Daily

Views: 180

For over twenty years Chicago cops led by former police Commander Jon Burge  beat and tortured prisoners, Blacks and Latinos with complete impunity. After years of people’s struggle a special prosecutor ruled in 2006 that Burge and several detectives under his leadership tortured more than 100 suspects into confessing to crimes through beatings, electric shock and other heinous methods between 1972 and 1991 while in custody at either Area 2 or Area 3.


For over twenty years Chicago cops led by former police Commander Jon Burge  beat and tortured prisoners, Blacks and Latinos with complete impunity. After years of people’s struggle a special prosecutor ruled in 2006 that Burge and several detectives under his leadership tortured more than 100 suspects into confessing to crimes through beatings, electric shock and other heinous methods between 1972 and 1991 while in custody at either Area 2 or Area 3.

The city of Chicago, it should be noted, spent millions of taxpayers dollars defending Burge and his crew.

Burge is finally is set to go on trial this month. Of course, that may change. However, at this time a rally has been called on that day to demand that Burge be locked up once and for all. If you are in or near Chicago you ought to be there.

Did I mention that twenty of those tortured are still sitting in jail trying appeal.
The following is from South Side Chicago Anti-Racist Action.
Jon Burge Faces Protests During Torture Trial
As notoriously racist and corrupt former CPD Detective Jon Burge goes to trial, community groups and the recently exonerated are organizing protests to give Burge a Chicago welcome:

Jail Cops Who Torture! Retrials for Their Victims! Cut Their Pensions!

Over 20 years of terror, Police Cdr. Jon Burge and his “Midnight Crew” tortured 200+ Latino and African American men and their children to obtain confessions. 20 of these victims are still incarcerated, hoping to be re-tried. Burge has been evading justice since ‘93 and the City of Chicago has spent over $10 MILLION in taxpayer dollars paying for his defense even after the Police Department Review Board ruled that he was guilty of using torture!
Take A Stand Against Torture on May 24th, 2010* @ Daley Plaza (55 W Randolph St) 8:30-10AM *Trial date may change. Visit for more info.
* Spread the word:
Facebook event and Flyer: JPG or PDF
Jail Jon Burge Committee Calls for Justice on May 24
Taking a stand against torture, the Jail Jon Burge Committee urges the residents of Illinois to join in a cry for justice from 8:30 to 10:00am on May 24, 2010.  The event will signal the commencement of the trial of former Chicago Police Department Commander Jon Burge, accused of perjury and obstruction of justice during a civil suit related to torture.

The event will feature appearances by victims who were tortured during Jon Burge’s tenure as commander, as well as their families.  Speakers will include Mark Clements, Marvin Reaves and Nick Escamilla, who are all victims of Burge’s torture regime.  Attorney Flint Taylor, renowned advocate for police torture victims, and 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins, fierce public advocate, will also appear.

The group has three demands, which include new trials by all who have alleged they have experienced police torture; cessation of pensions of all those who engaged in torture, as identified by the Special Prosecutor’s review; and indictment, trial, and imprisonment for all those found guilty of perjury related to their role in torture.   United with organizations across Chicago, the Committee will advocate on behalf of these victims, their families, and Chicago taxpayers, who continue to bear the financial burden of Burge’s defense costs.

In 1993, the Police Department Review Board determined that Jon Burge had used torture to obtain confessions between the years of 1972 and 1991, torturing an alleged 200 African American and Latino suspects.  Following an investigation by a special prosecutor that concluded in 2006, Burge was found to have committed torture in multiple instances. Due to the statute of limitations on torture crimes, however, Jon Burge and his “Midnight Crew” were never indicted for their offenses.  The trial of Burge for perjury and obstruction of justice related to the special prosecutor’s investigation marks the first time that Burge will be held accountable for even a fraction of the crimes that he has committed.

The Committee urges all interested and concerned parties to join them in their cry for justice at the May 24 Event.  Groups wishing to endorse the event should contact the Committee by calling 312-939-2750 or by emailing contact (at)


Police torturer on trial

21st May


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The man responsible for the torture of Mark Clements and some 200 other African American and Latino men in Chicago will go on trial on Monday in a downtown courtroom.

Jon Burge is former police commander who oversaw a squad of detectives who were notorious for using torture techniques to coerce false confessions out of suspects. One of their victims was a 16-year-old Clements. The incriminating statement that was tortured out of him was the main evidence used at the trial where he was convicted. Clements was sentenced to four life sentences plus 30 years.

Clements became an activist while behind bars. Finally, in the summer of 2009, with protest and pressure building for new trials for Burge torture victims who are still behind bars, Clements was finally freed–after serving 28 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Today, he is a member of the Jail Jon Burge coalition, a board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and an activist with the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.

Clements talked to Jon Bougie and Lyn Kotecki about his experiences and about the rally planned for the first day of Burge’s trial. (more…)

Tags: Aaron Gibson, Amadou Diallo, Anthony Abbate, Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine, Detective John McCann, Jon Bougie, Karolina Obrycka, Kevin Moore, Lyn Kotecki, Mark Clements, Virgil Jones

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3 Burge victims tell of torture, don’t expect conviction

20th May


written by admin

From the Chicago Defender
by Kathy Chaney

The beatings began in the early and late 1970s and went on at least until 1991. But at least three victims, allegedly tortured by the hands of former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge and his men, remember it vividly as if it were yesterday.

Mark Clements, Melvin Jones and Marvin Reeves also remember the sounds of men being tortured in the next room while they were in custody decades ago.

Now, the click of handcuffs on Burge’s wrist would be “sweet music” to their ears, said Clements.

A special prosecutor ruled in 2006 that Burge and several detectives under his leadership tortured more than 100 suspects into confessing to crimes through beatings, electric shock and other heinous methods between 1972 and 1991 while in custody at either Area 2 or Area 3.

Many alleged torture victims were convicted of crimes they allege they weren’t involved in. Some had their convictions overturned; some were sentenced to death.

After several lawsuits by victims and an investigation by the then-Office of Professional Standards, Burge was eventually fired in 1993 from the Chicago Police Department. The statute of limitations for the alleged torture had run out, however, the former commander was indicted in October 2008 on perjury and obstruction of justice charges for allegedly lying to special prosecutors during the 2006 investigation. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is scheduled to begin May 24. (more…)

Tags: Jon Burge, Mark Clements, Marvin Reeves, Melvin Jones, Northwestern University’s Innocence Project, Ronald Kitchens

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Torture Is As American As Apple Pie

17th May


written by admin

Saturday, May 15th, This is Hell! broadcasted a live four hour show beginning at 9 AM (US central) on WNUR 89.3 FM. Roughly an hour later Spencer “Thunderball” Thayer (that’s me) debuted his new segment live in their studios.

Click to play audio:

Rough transcrip:

Last week something unimaginable happened,finally after 20 years Police Commander Jon Burge walked into a Chicago Federal court house to select the jury that will be judging him on charges of perjury.

And on the 24th of May at 8:30am he’ll be attending his first day of court.

But I think I’m getting ahead of myself, some of you may not know who Jon Burge is, why he is facing jail time or even why you should care. (more…)

Tags: Chicago, Copwatch Communique, CPD, Jon Burge, Police, Spencer Thayer, This Is Hell, Torture

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Jury selection begins in Jon Burge torture trial

6th May


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Ex-Chicago police detective charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, after allegedly lying about torture of suspects

One of the city’s most persistent and troubling scandals reaches federal court Thursday when jury selection begins in the trial of Jon Burge, the former Chicago police detective accused of overseeing the torture of suspects.

For nearly two decades, Burge and his detectives allegedly sent dozens of men to prison on the basis of coerced confessions, deepening bitterness between police and minorities and helping inspire former Gov. George Ryan to reject capital punishment and empty the state’s death row.

But Burge, now 62, living on a police pension and reportedly in poor health, will not be tried for any act of torture. While federal prosecutors say they will prove that he and his detectives abused suspects, the statute of limitations expired long ago. Instead, Burge stands accused of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying in 2003 when he denied under oath he knew of or participated in abuse of suspects.

The fact that Burge is facing any kind of criminal charge is seen by some as a long-overdue opportunity for vindication.

“Jon Burge standing trial means a lot to the African-American community, and it means a lot to me, that finally some justice will come out of this ordeal of torture,” said Mark Clements, 45, an alleged victim of Burge’s officers who was released from prison in August after 28 years behind bars.

But Ronald Kitchen, 51, another alleged victim who was freed in July after 21 years in prison, isn’t satisfied.

“Who wouldn’t want to see him put in the same cage he put us in?” Kitchen said. “But unless he gets up on the stand and admits what he did, there’s no justice in it for me.”

Burge is expected to attend Thursday’s session in Judge Joan Lefkow’s courtroom, where potential jurors will be given a questionnaire. On May 24, they will return for the completion of jury selection.

Burge’s attorney, Richard Beuke, declined to allow his client to be interviewed by the Tribune but said the former detective will “vehemently deny all these allegations.”

“He is looking forward to an opportunity to finally face these people in court with a jury that will hopefully understand the law and the evidence and do their best to give him a fair trial in light of all the negative publicity that plaintiff’s lawyers and politicians have feasted upon at his expense,” Beuke said. “We want to make sure that this trial is tried in the courtroom.”

Read the article on the Chicago Tribune…

Tags: Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, Chicago Tribune, Mark Clements



Torture allegations dog ex-police officer
When Jon Burge was fired and left Chicago for Florida 10 years ago, he left turmoil in his wake. By Leonora LaPeter, St. Petersburg Times
August 29, 2004
Jon Burge

TAMPA – The burly man strode confidently from a Tampa courthouse last week, his lawyer placing a protective hand on his back as he passed the news cameras lying in wait.

Curious passers-by stopped and wondered about the guy with the shock of pure white hair smoothed perfectly back.
“Who’s that?” someone asked.

Few know him here, and that’s how he likes it. But back in Chicago, Jon Burge is big news. He’s known as the police commander who, for 20 years, tortured suspects to make them confess.

The accusations are like something out of a wartime prison: electric shock and cattle prods; near suffocation with a typewriter bag; mock executions with a pistol.

Four people who confessed to him were released from death row last year; they’re suing him. A special prosecutor has been on his tail for two years.

Fired from the Chicago Police Department, he settled into a waterfront community of brick and stucco houses on Tampa Bay 10 years ago, his police pension intact, a boat out back. He has never been charged with a crime.

Now people in Chicago are trying to bring him back, back to where he made a name for himself, as hero, then villain. People back home say Jon Burge needs to be called to account.

The book Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People delves into how and why torture takes place among ordinary people. Written by Chicago author John Conroy, the book explores torture in Israel, Northern Ireland and Chicago. Burge gets four chapters.

The son of a blue-collar phone company worker and a fashion columnist for the Chicago Daily News, Burge flunked out of college and volunteered to go to Vietnam twice, according to Conroy’s book.

He earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and two army commendations for valor, for pulling wounded men to safety while under fire.

Back home, Burge joined the Chicago Police Department at 22, working the poor neighborhoods of the south side. He had a knack for defusing volatile situations; once he plucked a gun from the hands of a woman about to shoot herself in the neck.

Twenty years later, as commander of the detective division, he “outranked 99 percent of the policemen in his city,” Conroy’s book says, and had picked up 13 commendations and a letter of praise from the Department of Justice.

His fall from grace can be traced to Feb. 9, 1982, when two police officers, 34-year-old William Fahey and 33-year-old Richard O’Brien, pulled over a Chevrolet Impala for a traffic stop.

One of the two men in the car stripped Fahey of his weapon and shot him in the head and O’Brien in the chest. The shootings brought to four the number of officers fatally shot in Chicago that month. Emotions ran hot.

Five days after the shootings, police brought Andrew Wilson in for questioning.

Thirteen hours later, he confessed. He emerged from the interrogation with severe bruising and cuts on his head, a torn retina, burns on his chest and thighs and U-shaped marks on his body. Officers at the jail refused to accept him for fear they would be blamed.

He was convicted and sentenced to death, but the Illinois Supreme Court threw out his confession and ordered a new trial, ruling: “The evidence here shows clearly that when the defendant was arrested at 5:15 a.m. on Feb. 14, he may have received a cut above his right eye but that he had no other injuries.

“It is equally clear that when the defendant was taken by police officers to Mercy Hospital sometime after ten o’clock that night he had about fifteen separate injuries on his head, chest and leg. The inescapable conclusion is that the defendant suffered his injuries while in police custody that day.”

Convicted at retrial, Wilson was sentenced to life without parole.

He sued the city of Chicago, Burge and other detectives. He testified that Burge and another officer used two electroshock devices on his ears, nose, fingers and groin area. Throughout the torture, he said, he was handcuffed to rings on a wall in front of a radiator that burned him.

“It’s black and it’s round and it had a wire sticking out of it and it had a cord on it,” Wilson testified, describing one of the shocking devices. Burge “took it and he ran it up between my legs, my groin area, just ran it up there very gently … up and down, up and down, you know, right between my legs, up and down like this, real gentle with it, but you can feel it, still feel it.

“Then he jabbed me with the thing and it slammed me … into the grille on the window. Then I fell back down, and I think that’s when I started spitting up the blood and stuff. Then he stopped.”

Police denied using torture. Other prisoners came forward, saying they had suffered similar treatment. A judge ultimately awarded Wilson $1-million.

The attention spawned more cases.

“It has been for many years an open secret that at the police headquarters where Burge worked, a large number of African-American citizens were detained and subjected to horrific forms of abuse,” said Locke Bowman, legal director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago and a lawyer for a man who says Burge’s detectives abused him.

Amnesty International asked for an independent investigation, calling the treatment “a clear violation of international law.”

An investigator for the police department’s professional standards office reviewed 50 complaints of abuse against Burge and his officers – electric shock, beatings, jabs with a cattle prod, pistols jammed in mouths in a mock execution, suffocations – and declared that the abuse was “systematic.”

As many as 108 men have accused Burge and his detectives of torturing confessions from them.

With fundraisers and benefits, thousands of officers supported Burge and his men.

In 1993, Burge and his officers, who had been suspended without pay for more than a year, met different fates. The officers were reinstated. Burge was fired.

He took his pension and moved south to Florida. He left behind people angry not only with him but with the system that took his job but otherwise let him walk away unpunished.

“They protected him. They got him out of town and tried to sweep this issue under the rug and they got away with it,” said the Rev. Calvin Morris, executive director of the Community Renewal Society in Chicago, which fought to get the city to look into the charges against Burge.

“We’re left here with people who may be languishing in jail unfairly plus this is a slap on the wrist, and he’s in sunny Florida.”

Chicago police spokesman David Bayless responded: “I speak for the Chicago Police Department but I can’t speak for every single opinion here, but I can say that the city of Chicago Police Department fired him. And that speaks for itself.”

Why didn’t the department pursue charges? Bayless said he would get back with the answer, but he never did.

Burge was gone, but the investigations continued. City investigators found evidence of torture. They shelved the cases in 1998, figuring the statute of limitations had run out, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Lawsuits were filed. Inmates who called themselves the “Death Row 10″ said Burge or his detectives tortured confessions out of them. Their number grew to 13.

Illinois began finding fault with its death penalty system. A Northwestern University journalism professor and his students dug up evidence that exonerated some death row inmates, including one who said Burge and his detectives tortured him.

In 2000, then-Gov. George Ryan halted executions in Illinois after courts found 13 of the men on the state’s death row had been wrongfully convicted. Last year, Ryan pardoned four of the Death Row 10, saying the evidence against them rested solely on confessions generated by torture from Burge and his officers.

“The four men did not know each other,” Ryan said, “all getting beaten and tortured and convicted on the same basis of the confessions that they allegedly provided. They are perfect examples of what is so terribly broken about our system.”

One of the pardoned men was Leroy Orange, then a 33-year-old self-employed maintenance man and scrap collector who was married with two children. His only prior arrest had come 14 years earlier at age 18, for criminal property damage. He was picked up for the murder of two women, a man and a 10-year-old in a Chicago apartment. The four had been bound and stabbed, the apartment set on fire.

Orange confessed after 12 hours of questioning during which he said he was shocked with wires attached to his buttocks, testicles and arms and suffocated with a plastic bag over his head.

He spent 19 years in prison before Ryan pardoned him. This year he was arrested on drug charges.

“What I see with Leroy is that his life was devastated by the conviction and the amount of time he spent in prison,” said Thomas F. Geraghty, Orange’s lawyer and a professor at Northwestern University School of Law. “He made this claim since day one and no one listened to us. It’s more like he is a victim of the system’s failure to acknowledge and curtail the antics of these police officers.”

Burge’s Chicago lawyer, Richard Levy, pointed out that although Ryan pardoned four of the Death Row 10, the Supreme Court of Illinois had upheld their convictions. Levy is paid by the city of Chicago, which must represent Burge in lawsuits. He offered this explanation for why so many have made similar claims:

“We believe that these allegations of coercion are false and that these individuals were guilty of their underlying crimes. And there can be many reasons why shared allegations of torture are seen. Obviously, they’re represented by the same law firm and many of these people were incarcerated together.”

For the past decade, Burge has lived on the eastern edge of Tampa Bay in Apollo Beach, the winter spot for manatees attracted to the warm water outflow of Tampa Electric’s power plant.

Burge’s white wood-frame home, which he bought for $154,000 in 1994, has coral shutters, a well-manicured yard and a 22-foot motorboat on a canal.

His next-door neighbor, 55-year-old retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jack Stevens, said Burge has watched Stevens’ home when he’s been on vacation and helped him install a door, fix a pool pump and put a timer in his pool.

He never talks about what happened in Chicago, and Stevens doesn’t ask. “I don’t know what it is about him being a cop in Chicago, but he’s been an excellent neighbor.”

What happened in Chicago is what everyone up there wants to hear. Burge was in court in Tampa twice this month fighting a subpoena to give a deposition in Chicago. He walked into County Judge Walter R. Heinrich’s tiny courtroom and immediately struck up a conversation with the bailiff in the corner.

Burge, who is 56, says he is retired except for some security consultant work. He was jovial and amiable but shook his head when a reporter approached.

“I can’t, my dear,” he said. “I would love to, but I can’t. They’ll tell you why. I just can’t.”

In one of the suits, Burge’s lawyers have said he will invoke the Fifth Amendment against incriminating himself.

That’s because a special prosecutor is investigating. He was appointed in 2002, after the Cook County Bar Association, the Justice Coalition of Chicago and others filed a petition asking for a special prosecutor to review the allegations.

Edward Egan, a former judge from the Illinois Appellate Court and semiretired lawyer, was at his retirement home in Venice, Fla., when he got the call from Illinois asking if he would investigate.

Egan and an assistant put together an entire law office to handle the investigation. They hired more lawyers and a company of retired FBI officers to do legwork on allegations dating to 1973.

Now 81, Egan said he told his wife the case would take a year. It’s taken two years and four months, and he’s not done. He comes home to Venice for holidays and their anniversary.

“I’ve stopped prognosticating,” he said. “It’s slower than we anticipated. There were a lot of big problems about getting records and finding people. And many died and many people moved out of state.”

Burge has been subpoenaed to give depositions Wednesday in two suits filed by former death row inmates.

“I know there’s a strong sense that justice has not been done,” said Jane Bohman, executive director of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. “That’s why the civil suits were filed. Because the truth was never acknowledged by our government.

“He’s got a pension. He moved to Florida. He probably wanted to go softly into the night, as they say.”

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which includes information from the Chicago Tribune and “Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People” by John Conroy.

Police/Prosecutor Misconduct Recommended Reading

April 19, 2004

Study Suspects Thousands of False Convictions


comprehensive study of 328 criminal cases over the last 15 years in which the convicted person was exonerated suggests that there are thousands of innocent people in prison today.

Almost all the exonerations were in murder and rape cases, and that implies, according to the study, that many innocent people have been convicted of less serious crimes. But the study says they benefited neither from the intense scrutiny that murder cases tend to receive nor from the DNA evidence that can categorically establish the innocence of people convicted of rape.

Prosecutors, however, have questioned some of the methodology used in the study, which was prepared at the University of Michigan and supervised by a law professor there, Samuel R. Gross. They say that the number of exonerations is quite small when compared with the number of convictions during the 15-year period. About 2 million people are in American prisons and jails.

The study identified 199 murder exonerations, 73 of them in capital cases. It also found 120 rape exonerations. Only nine cases involved other crimes. In more than half of the cases, the defendants had been in prison for more than 10 years.

The study’s authors said they picked 1989 as a starting point because that was the year of the first DNA exoneration. Of the 328 exonerations they found in the intervening years, 145 involved DNA evidence.

In 88 percent of the rape cases in the study, DNA evidence helped free the inmate. But biological evidence is far less likely to be available or provide definitive proof in other kinds of cases. Only 20 percent of the murder exonerations involved DNA evidence, and almost all of those were rape-murders.

The study, which will be presented Friday at a conference of defense lawyers in Austin, Tex., also found that very different factors contributed to wrongful convictions in rape and murder cases.

Some 90 percent of false convictions in the rape cases involved misidentification by witnesses, very often across races. In particular, the study said black men made up a disproportionate number of exonerated rape defendants.

The racial mix of those exonerated, in general, mirrored that of the prison population, and the mix of those exonerated of murder mirrored the mix of those convicted of murder. But while 29 percent of those in prison for rape are black, 65 percent of those exonerated of the crime are.

Interracial rapes are, moreover, uncommon. Rapes of white women by black men, for instance, represent less than 10 percent of all rapes, according to the Justice Department. But in half of the rape exonerations where racial data was available, black men were falsely convicted of raping white women.

“The most obvious explanation for this racial disparity is probably also the most powerful,” the study says. “White Americans are much more likely to mistake one black person for another than to do the same for members of their own race.”

On the other hand, the study found that the leading causes of wrongful convictions for murder were false confessions and perjury by co- defendants, informants, police officers or forensic scientists.

A separate study considering 125 cases involving false confessions was published in the North Carolina Law Review last month and found that such confessions were most common among groups vulnerable to suggestion and intimidation.

“There are three groups of people most likely to confess,” said Steven A. Drizin, a law professor at Northwestern, who conducted the study with Richard A. Leo, a professor of criminology at the University of California, Irvine. “They are the mentally retarded, the mentally ill and juveniles.”

Professor Drizin, too, said that false confessions were most common in murder cases.

“Those are the cases where there is the greatest pressure to obtain confessions,” he said, “and confessions are often the only way to solve those crimes.”

Professor Drizin said that videotaping of police interrogations would cut down on false confessions.

The authors of the Michigan study offered dueling rationales for the murder exonerations, and both reasons, they said, were disturbing.

There may be more murder exonerations, they said, because the cases attract more attention, especially when a death sentence is imposed. Death row inmates represent a quarter of 1 percent of the prison population but 22 percent of the exonerated.

That suggests that innocent people are often convicted in run-of-the-mill cases. Indeed, the study says, “if we reviewed prison sentences with the same level of care that we devote to death sentences, there would have been over 28,500 non-death-row exonerations in the past 15 years rather than the 255 that have in fact occurred.”

The study offered a competing theory, as well. Mistakes, it said, may be more likely in murder cases and far more likely in capital cases.

“The truth,” the study concludes, “is clearly a combination of these two appalling possibilities.”

Critics of the Michigan study questioned its methodology, saying it overstated the number of authentically innocent people. The study calls every nullification of a conviction by a governor, court or prosecutor declaring a person not guilty of a crime an exoneration.

In Astoria, Ore., Joshua Marquis, the district attorney for Clatsop County, said that many of the people exonerated under the study’s definition may nonetheless have committed the crimes in question, though the evidence may have become too weak to prove that beyond a reasonably doubt.

“The real number of people on death row exonerated in the sense of being actually innocent in the modern era of the death penalty is about 25 to 30,” Mr. Marquis said. The Michigan study put the number at 73.

He added that even the error rate suggested by the study was tolerable given the American prison population.

“We all agree that it is better for 10 guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be convicted,” Mr. Marquis said. “Is it better for 100,000 guilty men to walk free rather than have one innocent man convicted? The cost-benefit policy answer is no.”

At the University of Michigan, Professor Gross said that was the wrong calculus.

“No rate of preventable errors that destroy people’s lives and destroy the lives of those close to them is acceptable,” he said.

Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project, said Mr. Marquis’s analysis ignored another point.

“Every time an innocent person is convicted,” Mr. Scheck said, “it means there are more guilty people out there who are still committing crimes.”

Click HERE to read the University of Michigan Law School study report. (pdf format – use Acrobat Reader)


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