The City of Chicago will have to cough up $20 million to four black men who were tortured into murder confessions by former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Graham Burge and his detectives. It may just be the tip of the iceberg. Over a two-decade period, Burge and his midnight crew, all white cops, tortured more than 100 black prisoners. The Chicago policemen used electric wires attached to the men’s genitals and suffocation, among other tactics, to coerce confessions to crimes the suspects claim they didn’t commit.
Burge, who was fired from the CPD more than 15 years ago, lives in Florida off his police commission and on his yacht, aptly named the Vigilante. Civil rights attorneys and some of the city’s black aldermen are still pushing to have the rogue cop arrested and prosecuted for his unspeakable crimes. The local judicial system says that since the torture occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, the statutes of limitations give the bad apples a pass. The civil rights lawyers believe differently. They argue that there has been an ongoing cover-up of the torture case that can be traced all the way up the clout chain to Mayor Richard M. Daley, who was state’s attorney back when some of the atrocities were being administered.
The case is not closed.
Here’s a column I wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times op-ed page in the Controversy section on August 13, 2006.
Not too late for charges in torture cases
BY MONROE ANDERSON
This much cannot be contested: Jon Graham Burge was a sadistic Chicago cop who got his jollies by routinely and systematically torturing black men. Cmdr. Burge and his midnight crew at Area 2 tortured more than 100 men over two decades. In some cases, Burge and his detectives tortured the old-fashioned way, using flashlights, blackjacks and telephone books. Many other times they went above and beyond the call of cruelty, hand-cranking a telephone box that generated an electrical current, then putting it to the genitals and rectums of their African-American victims.
These accusations of torture have been an open secret for nearly three decades throughout much of Chicago's criminal justice system. I remember hearing rumors of suspects being tortured when I briefly covered Criminal Court at 26th and California in the late '70s. The Report of the Special State's Attorney, released late last month, dismissed any doubts. Edward Egan, who led the four-year, $6.2 million investigation, found that in the '70s and '80s, Burge and his men tortured suspects into making confessions. The report concluded that the statute of limitations has expired, making it too late to file charges against the bad cops.
This is what must be contested: that time has run out for anybody to do some time for committing or covering up this series of barbaric crimes. The sadistic torture may have ended when Burge was fired 15 years ago, but there was then and there is now a blueprint for whitewashing the two-decades-long actions of Burge and his boys.
Think of it as the everlasting Three-Monkey dodge: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. This is how it worked as a wink-and-nod conspiracy. The police officers at Area 2 didn't hear the screams of detainees as Burge and his midnight crew worked them over in the basement. They didn't see the body burns and bruises after the suspects emerged singing confessions like lovesick canaries. They followed the code of silence if one of them happened to spot the black box used to shock the prisoners when the door to the torture chamber swung open.
The prosecutors in the Cook County state's attorney's offices didn't see the repeated motions from defense attorneys to suppress evidence because their clients had been coerced to confess to a crime they did not commit. The prosecutors in the state's attorney's office saw no reason to investigate the steady stream of cries from civil rights and defense attorneys that the suspects' constitutional rights were being violated. All this went on even when the state's attorney was Richard M. Daley and his No. 2 guy was Dick Devine. Both men managed to see nothing -- except maybe that letter from then-Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek asking them how to handle torture allegations by prisoner Andrew Wilson -- or hear nothing and therefore had nothing to say.
Even after Daley became mayor and Devine took his boss' old job, both men remain in the Three-Monkey stage. Both had plenty of opportunities to check out the truthfulness of the charges. Neither did. Maybe they'll get around to it before the next election. Burge and his detectives have continued to lie under oath, denying that anybody got tortured at any time.
The one thing the Watergate and Monica Lewinski scandals taught us is that it's not the crime, but the cover-up that gets you. So here's one more item for Patrick J. Fitzgerald to put on his to-do list: Check to see if former State's Attorney Richard M. Daley, like the current mayor, Richard M. Daley in the city's patronage hiring scandal, was a bad manager with a bad memory or is a bad liar with ethics to match.
Civil rights attorney Flint Taylor is calling for a federal investigation, pointing out the cover-up, conspiracy and perjury while arguing that statutes of limitations don't expire as long as the obstruction of justice and conspiracy continues. That's an argument federal and local prosecutors use all the time while pursuing criminals.
Taylor says Fitzgerald should use the same federal prosecutorial philosophy that sent Al Capone to jail, not for murder and bootlegging, but for failure to pay taxes on his ill-gotten gains.
If the muckraking federal prosecutor listens, then we'll see if what's good for the criminal will be good for those in the criminal justice system as well.