[Ppnews] Chicago - Police torture

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 9 12:07:47 EDT 2006


http://www.counterpunch.org/ruder06092006.html
June 9, 2006


The Chicago Files


Police Torture in America

By ERIC RUDER

B


Will the real story finally come out?
Chicago police torture exposed

June 9, 2006 | Page 5

ERIC RUDER looks at the struggle to expose police torture in Chicago.

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 
<http://www.socialistworker.org/>Socialist Worker.


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