CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) – On September 21, 2010, Victor Safforld (a.k.a. Cortez Brown) walked out from behind the barbed wire gates of Cook County Jail after being imprisoned for 20 years for crimes he said he did not commit.
According to Victor, he was coerced into confessing to two murders after being tortured by members of the Chicago Police Department under the command of the infamous former Cmdr. Jon Burge. For those crimes, he was originally given the death penalty.
In order to go free, Mr. Safforld pleaded guilty to one murder, and prosecutors dropped the other. He made it a point to tell reporters that his name was not Cortez Brown. That name was an alias he gave to police when he was arrested which he thought would assist him in evading the crime reporting system.
Although he is glad to be free, it was a difficult decision to plead guilty, he said.
“This is the reason I did that,” said Mr. Safforld as he reached over and pulled his daughter Victoria close. “She was born one month after I was incarcerated. I couldn’t delay. Being a dead beat dad–I had to make a decision to get to my daughter.”
His mother, Pamela steadfastly prayed for his release. He was joined by a host of jubilant supporters on Sept. 21 including his spiritual advisors, Abdullah Muhammad, who directs the Nation of Islam’s National Prison Reform Ministry, Rev. Larry Turpin of the United Church of Hyde Park, Atty. Locke Bowman and Gary Tomlinson, the man with whom Mr. Safforld will be staying with while getting back on his feet.
He said spending two decades behind bars changed him for the better, and he credits the spiritual guidance of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan with giving him the strength and hope to continue, even during the darkest moments of imprisonment.
“It was the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, his message of redemption, his message of hope, his message of serving the community and making sure that my life is not wasted,” said Mr. Safforld. “He (Farrakhan) told me that with God anything is possible. Governor (George) Ryan reduced the sentence to natural life and that I was in prison for the rest of my life without the possibility of parole. Minister Farrakhan said that with God everything is possible. So I’m thankful to him for putting that message in me.”
Torture evidence uncovered
The Final Call reported back in May 2009 when Cook County Judge Clayton Crane ordered a new trial for Victor Safforld who had delivered sworn testimony that officers tortured him to obtain a false confession.
According to sworn testimonies and numerous reports, Cmdr. Burge led a group of rogue officers from Area 2, referred to by many as the “Midnight Crew,” that used cattle prods to electric shock the genitals of suspects, handcuffed suspects to hot radiators and beat suspects to coerce confessions and to obtain information during investigations. They were also accused of filing false information in police reports.
In granting Mr. Safforld a new trial, Judge Crane said the evidence against the officers was “staggering” and “damning.”
Attorney Flint Taylor, Atty. Bowman, Atty. Joey Mogul and a team of committed lawyers from the People’s Law Office in Chicago have steadfastly fought for justice on behalf of Mr. Safforld and many others who allege torture by police.
Burge has evaded justice for decades and ironically was never actually charged with torture. A Cook County state’s attorney concluded an extensive investigation in 2006 that showed Burge was aware of and may have committed torture, however, due to the statute of limitations, he could not be charged. In 2009, a special prosecutor had been named to take over and review decades old allegations of torture.
The dogged determination of community activists and attorneys has paid off. Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in June and is scheduled to be sentenced on November 5. He faces up to 45 years in prison.
When asked what should happen to Mr. Burge and all those who he claims tortured him 20 years ago, Mr. Safforld told The Final Call he wants justice.
“Well, he’ll (Burge) have to be able to accept his medicine like all corrupt police officers. They corrupt and they infect good officers. Whenever you have a bad officer that infects the police department, he corrupts good officers and the good officers become cowards and that’s why you have all these people in prison today,” said Mr. Safforld. “I was grateful that he was convicted because now it put light on all of the cases of the men that are in these prisons that need to be free. You have a lot of guys that still should be free in these prisons.”
Student Minister Abdullah Muhammad said the Prison Reform Ministry of the Nation of Islam represents the nameless, faceless and voiceless Black inmates who languish in the prisons of America. In many cases, innocent Black men have died in prison, serving time for crimes they confessed to, but did not commit, like in the case of Victor Safforld. Names like Darrell Cannon, Leroy Orange, Madison Hobley, Mark Clements, Gregory Banks, Johnnie Lee Savory, Anthony Holmes and Marcus Wiggins are just some of the names of those who say they suffered torture at the hands of brutal police officers who abused their authority.
In fact, once Victor Saffold received a release date, he had an altercation with prison guards who then pressed charges on him. To complicate matters, he was given a $25,000 bond, and according to Abdullah Muhammad, Minister Farrakhan gave him the money to pay the bond to ensure that Mr. Safforld could walk out of jail on Sept. 21.
“It confirms to me that Min. Farrakhan is divinely guided because whatever, whoever he decides to support, Allah works it all out and eventually, victory comes to the Believer or the Apostle or the Anointed servant of God,” said Mr. Muhammad who vigilantly monitored Mr. Saffold’s case and kept Min. Farrakhan and the entire Nation of Islam up-to-date regarding the case.
Rev. Turpin told reporters it was clear that Mr. Safforld would not have accepted the plea deal if he “were really in it for the money.” He just wanted to be free. Over the last seven years, he has watched Mr. Safforld’s daughter grow older. He has also watched Mr. Safforld grow older in age, but more importantly, he has witnessed his spiritual growth, he said.
“It’s terrible to watch him grow older. I think he’s getting out before he’s 40 and that’s hard. It’s a real hard life, but his spirituality has helped him so much. That I know,” said Rev. Turpin.
Mr. Safforld’s daughter Victoria was speechless as she walked with her father’s arm on her shoulder past Popeye’s Chicken, streetlights, traffic signals, hearing seemingly normal city sounds like horns, sirens and traffic, things those outside of the prison walls take for granted.
“I just can’t believe it’s happening,” she said with a big smile. “You wait for so long and then it’s like–kind of overwhelming a little bit,” said Victoria.
Despite the time lost, Mr. Safforld said he is not going to waste any time being bitter. Instead, he wants to become a community activist and work diligently stop youth and gang violence, which comes as a result of self-hatred and drugs.
Atty. Bowman said it was a blessing that Victor is free, however, he was circumspect in his analysis of what lies ahead for many who still remain behind bars.
“It is a great blessing that Victor has come home, but he never should have been convicted of either of these two crimes,” Atty. Bowman told The Final Call. “Tortured evidence by Jon Burge and the people who work with Jon Burge is responsible for the fact that Victor went away in the first place. There are still 24 more guys who are locked up that have been claiming for years that their convictions are just like Victor’s and none of us can rest until everybody gets the justice that eventually came to Victor,” he said.
Activists want ex-cop accused of torture jailed, police torture outlawed (FCN, 06-12-2010)
Police torture victim released from jail after 23 years (FCN, 01-25-2010)