CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) – In the past three decades hundreds of Black men have accused former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge of torture, but in the end, his own words indicted him.
FBI agents arrested Burge, 60, at his home in Apollo Beach, Fla., Oct. 21, on two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury charges for allegedly lying about whether he led a campaign of torture and physical abuse of suspects dating back to the 1970s. The federal indictment outlines allegations that Mr. Burge was present for, participated in, and was aware of torture and physical abuse of at least 200 convicted persons in police custody.
“There is no place for torture and abuse in a police station. There is no place for perjury and false statements in federal lawsuits,” said U.S. States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. “The alleged criminal conduct by defendant Burge goes to the core principles of our criminal justice system.”
The indictment charges that Mr. Burge during his time as an Area 2 detective commander lied and impeded court proceedings in November 2003 when he provided false written answers to questions in a civil lawsuit alleging he and others abused suspects in their custody.
Mr. Burge said he never used cattle prods, Russian roulette, deprivation of sleep, quiet, food, drink, bathroom facilities, suffocation, or any machine that delivers an electric shock, or any torture techniques. “I have never used any techniques set forth above as a means of improper coercion of suspects while in detention or during interrogation,” wrote Mr. Burge.
Mr. Burge’s statements were lies, according to federal prosecutors. “Burge well knew that he had participated in one or more incidents of physical coercion of suspects while the suspects were in detention and/or were being interrogated,” said federal officials.
Mr. Burge faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count of obstruction of justice and five years for perjury and a $250,000 fine on each count. Mr. Burge was released the same day he was arrested on a $250,000 secured bond. The judge ordered him to surrender his passport and firearms. At press time Mr. Burge was scheduled to be arraigned in Chicago Oct. 27 before U.S. District Judge Joan H. Lefkow in U.S. District Court.
The Burge arrest is part of an ongoing investigation that began in September 2007, said officials. Roughly a dozen other officers who denied taking part in the torture could also soon be brought up on charges as well.
Mr. Burge was a Chicago police officer from 1970 until 1993. The very first allegations of torture and abuse against Mr. Burge and his helpers were made by three Black men in August of 1972. Public pressure and advocacy from elected officials is credited with helping to finally bring these criminal charges against him.
Activists were disheartened when Mr. Burge was not arrested and charged immediately following the Wilson trial in 1993. Instead, shortly after being fired, Mr. Burge moved to Florida where he has enjoyed both a city pension, including health care, and high paid legal representation at taxpayer expense.
This is a small victory for Wallace “Gator” Bradley, an activist who has long advocated for the arrest and prosecution of Mr. Burge. Mr. Bradley urged elected officials on the local and national level to help bring Mr. Burge to justice.
In January, the city spent roughly $20 million settling four cases of men freed from death row who said Mr. Burge and more than 20 officers under him coerced murder confessions during the 1970s and 1980s. Another roughly $10 million has been spent on Mr. Burge’s legal fees.
“Everyone is happy that Burge is finally indicted, but it is back to work because beyond litigation, we must look at what happened to the families, the children; they need repair,” said Attorney Standish Willis, founder of Black People Against Police Torture. Atty. Willis believes in a three-prong approach that includes organizing, litigation, and institution building that will provide long-term treatment to those victimized by Mr. Burge.
Atty. Willis has been working with State Sen. Kwame Raoul who sponsored “HB 5032: Illinois Torture Inquiry and Release Commission Bill.” This bill would set up an independent body that would investigate allegations of torture by Mr. Burge.
Pushing the idea of reparations, Atty. Willis believes the city should pay for the establishment of a center, similar to the Marjorie Kovler Center, that will repair the damages inflicted by torture and false incarceration. “The Kovler Center was established to help foreign victims of torture, but no American citizens are treated there because we don’t have incidents of torture in the United States,” Atty. Willis said sarcastically.
The Marjorie Kovler Center empowers survivors of torture to regain independence and personal control over their lives. The center helps survivors of torture overcome trauma. “The city council should bite the bullet on the reparations piece and establish the center,” said Atty. Willis.