Hope springs that justice will be served

CHICAGO — Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, 60, was arrested by federal agents at his home near Tampa, Fla., Oct. 21 and charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury. According to the U.S. attorney’s office Burge lied about whether he and officers he supervised used torture methods on murder suspects, scores of African American men in the 1970s and 1980s, who were forced to confess to crimes they say they did not commit.

The U.S. Attorney’s office charges Burge lied and impeded court proceedings in 2003 when he gave false answers to questions in a civil lawsuit alleging Burge and others led torture and abuse methods on suspects in custody more than two decades ago. The indictment says Burge was present on one or more occasions, and participated in, the torture and physical abuse of suspects in his custody. The indictment also says Burge was aware that detectives under his supervision led such abuses on detained suspects.

“There is no place for torture and abuse in a police station,” said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in a news release. “There is no place for perjury and false statements in federal lawsuits,” he added. “No person is above the law, and nobody – even a suspected murderer – is beneath its protection.”

Robert Grant, special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said, “Police officers don’t serve the public as judge and jury. They have a special responsibility to care for those within their custody, regardless of their alleged crimes.” Grant added, “Today’s announcement brings great shame on the career of retired Commander Burge. These charges will not erase the pain within our Chicago community, but perhaps it can help begin the healing process.”

Flint Taylor, an attorney who has represented Burge victims told the Chicago Sun-Times he is “extremely pleased and gratified that, so many years later, a U.S. attorney has made the move to indict the leader of the police torture ring.” Flint hopes Burge’s “henchmen” will also be brought to justice too.

According to authorities the investigation is ongoing.

While answering written questions in 2003 as part of a civil lawsuit filed by Madison Hobley, a torture victim, Burge denied any abuse took place. Burge repeatedly denied similar charges. In the indictment Hobley said that Chicago police officers under Burge’s supervision at Area Two headquarters in 1987 had suffocated him by placing a plastic typewriter cover over his head forcing him to lose consciousness. Later Hobley says he was coerced into giving a false confession.

In 2006 a $7 million report by two special prosecutors by the Cook County Circuit Court was released that concluded Chicago police officers under Burge used torture methods on dozens of African American men that included electric shock, radiator burns, guns to the mouth, suffocation, beatings, death threats and other abuse forcing false confessions out of them for crimes they say they did not do. According to the prosecutors the actions were too old to warrant indictment and Burge was not charged under the statue of limitations.

Last year, nearly $20 million was spent by the city of Chicago settling four cases of African American men who were freed from Death Row in 2003 by former Gov. George Ryan. They were tortured into giving false confessions by Burge and his officers.

Five Chicago alderman sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald last year urging him to “investigate, indict and prosecute” Burge for abusing suspects.

Burge was a Chicago police officer from 1970 to 1993. He was a sergeant from 1977 to 1980 and a lieutenant and supervisor of detectives for a violent crimes unit from 1981-1986. He was fired in 1993 after he was found using methods of torture on a suspect. He was never brought to justice and he moved to Florida after his dismissal where he continued to receive a city pension and taxpayer-paid legal representation.

Burge faces up to 20 years in prison on each obstruction count and five years on the perjury count.

plozano @ pww.org

For related stories:
Torture victim fights for freedom

Chicago torture probe draws worldwide attention

A brutal prison culture