Continuing the Fight for Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases

We continue to be deeply committed to the struggle to obtain justice on behalf of survivors of Chicago’s now notorious Police Torture ring.  This work has involved criminal and post-conviction representation for men who have been sent to prison based on tortured confessions, along with obtaining exonerations and filing civil rights damages suits on behalf of torture survivors after they have been released, as well as concerted public pressure to ensure that the torture does not remain hidden and that the perpetrators are punished.

Since 1999, we have been counsel for torture survivor Darrell Cannon, whom we represented in a ground breaking motion to suppress hearing, ordered by the Illinois Appellate Court, at which we presented a wealth of evidence establishing systemic Area 2 torture. This hearing led to the State dismissing Cannon’s case in 2004, and after additional litigation, to his release in 2007.  Our office also brought a civil rights damages action on Cannon’s behalf, and is presently fighting its unfair dismissal, in the Court of Appeals.

Our investigation into Cannon’s case led us to yet another victim of Area 2 detectives, and yet another case where we, and attorneys for Northwestern University’s MacArthur Center, obtained the release of an innocent man. We had listed Michael Tillman as a potential witness in Cannon’s case, and when the defendants took his deposition at the penitentiary, Ben Elson, who had joined the office in 2005, interviewed Tillman and became convinced that he was also a torture victim, and that he was innocent. Tillman had been convicted of a 1986 murder and rape after police officers waterboarded him with 7-Up, suffocated him with a plastic bag, beat him with a phone book and punched him in the face and stomach until he vomited blood, then claimed that he gave inculpatory statements. Tillman had consistently proclaimed his innocence, and had testified that any inculpatory statements were caused by the torture, but his protests had been denied. We filed a post conviction petition on behalf of Tillman, succeeded in getting his conviction thrown out, and then obtained a certificate of innocence for him. We are currently representing him in a suit for money damages for compensation for the 24 years of his life taken from him because of the coerced statements. Federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer recently issued a precedent-setting decision in this case which, for the first time, holds that former Mayor Richard M. Daley may be found liable as a defendant for his role in a racially based conspiracy to suppress evidence and cover-up the pattern and practice of torture.

We were also co-counsel, with attorneys from Northwestern University’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, for pardoned torture survivor Leroy Orange. Orange had been convicted of murdering four people in 1984, and once again a confession coerced by Burge and his men comprised almost the entire case against him. He had been sentenced to death, and had post conviction claims alleging torture pending at the time that former governor Ryan granted him an innocence pardon. We and Bluhm attorneys then filed a civil suit based on the coerced confession, and we won several important legal decisions upholding the right to bring such claims, before the City and County agreed to settle his case for more than $6 million.

We also worked with MacArthur Center attorneys to obtain a new trial in 2009 for Victor Safforld, who had also been convicted based on a coerced confession. After we obtained the new trial, Safforld was released in 2010. With the MacArthur Center, we also currently represent Ronald Kitchen, wrongly convicted of five murders in the 1980s based on a coerced confession, whose conviction was reversed in 2009 based upon his torture.

Our work obtaining justice in these cases has also involved fighting to have Burge and the other white detectives who committed torture found criminally liable. People’s Law Office was at the forefront of the Campaign to Prosecute Torture, a broad-based movement of community activists and legal professionals, which successfully pressured Chief Judge Paul Biebel to appoint Cook County Special Prosecutors to investigate police torture. The office then provided these prosecutors with the copious evidence we collected for decades, demonstrating the systematic and racist nature of this widespread torture scandal. Unfortunately, the prosecutors published a whitewash report in 2006 and refused to indict Burge and his men, claiming the abuse happened too long ago.  In response, PLO lawyers in collaboration with Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions wrote and released a Shadow Report, signed by over 200 organizations and prominent individuals, which led to Cook County Board and Chicago City Council hearings at which People’s Law Office attorneys and their clients testified. The Cook County Board passed resolutions calling for federal prosecutions of Burge and his men and new hearings for torture survivors behind bars.

In October of 2008, after decades of impunity, Jon Burge was finally indicted in Federal Court in the Northern District of Illinois.  While the statute of limitations had passed for the physical acts of torture, he was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying on interrogatories in a civil suit of one of the torture survivors.  In a month-long trial in 2010, Burge’s defense was that no torture ever took place at Area 2, even taking the stand to deny the claims.  In June of 2010, we were present at the Dirksen Federal Building as the jury came back with a unanimous finding of guilty on all three counts.  He was sentenced to 4 ½ years, which he is currently serving at Butner Federal Correction Complex in North Carolina.

As with many other aspects of our work, we have recognized that the fight for justice in these cases includes going beyond litigation and battles in court and we have been invested in bringing the Chicago Police torture scandal to local, national, and international attention. In 2005, we, along with our clients, testified about police torture in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, while in 2006 we collaborated on drafting a Shadow Report which we presented to, and argued before the United Nations Committee Against Torture. We and our clients have also played a significant role in the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, a project calling for artists and community members to propose possible memorials as a public recognition of Chicago Police Torture and an expression of solidarity with those who have survived the torture.


Early Days
The Murder of Fred Hampton
Government Surveillance
Representing the Panthers in Downstate Illinois
Attica New York Prison Riots
The Fred Hampton Murder Trial
Prisoner Rights Work
Puerto Rican Independence Movement and the Puerto Rican Community
Fred Hampton Appeal
George Jones Street Files and False Imprisonment
Representing Demonstrators, Protestors, and Activists
Puerto Rico Work Continues
Police Brutality and Torture
Continuing to Represent Demonstrators and Activists
The Attica Prison Civil Case
Continuing Work in Solidarity With Puerto Rico
Fighting the Death Penalty
Sexual Abuse Litigation and Illegal Strip Search
Back to the Supreme Court
The 1996 Democratic Convention
Policy and Practice Cases
False Arrests and Convictions
Continuing to Defend Dissent
Continuing the Fight for Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases
Criminal Defense for Civil Rights Abuses
Jail Suicide
Opposing the Criminalization of the LGBTQ Community
People’s Law Office and The National Lawyers Guild