Updated Complaint in Suit Against CPD Officer with History of Racist Abuse

People’s Law Office Files Updated Complaint Against “Repeater Beater”
December 22, 2016

Civil Rights Lawyers in Chicago

Yesterday, the People’s Law Office filed an amended complaint on behalf of our client Kendall McClennon. Mr. McClennon was physically brutalized, tased and subjected to racist verbal abuse by Chicago Police Officer Raymond Piwnicki, who has amassed 89 civilian complaints of misconduct.  The complaint alleges that Piwnicki has physically abused, racially assaulted and tormented scores of other Black and Latinx people in the City for over a decade.  In pursuing this litigation, we seek just compensation for the traumatic injuries Defendant Piwnicki caused to Mr. McClennon and to hold Defendant Piwnicki, the other Defendant Officers and the City of Chicago accountable for this violation of the rights of Mr. McClennon.

From the Complaint:

To date, there have been eighty-nine complaints of misconduct filed against Defendant Piwnicki in a fourteen-year time span, from the time he started with the Chicago Police Department in June of 1998 through December 5, 2012.

In 48.3% of the eighty-nine complaints, Defendant Piwnicki was accused of engaging in excessive force; he was also accused of using racist verbal abuse in 20.2% of the eighty-nine complaints…

Fore more information:

Link to WBEZ piece by Natalie Moore: Updated Lawsuit Details History of Abuse

Read the Amended Complaint

 

Torture Survivor to be Released after 25 Years in Prison

Special Prosecutor Drops Charges In  Wrongful Conviction Case of Burge-Era Torture Victim After Almost 25 Years in Prison

Chicago, IL; October 14, 2015 –At the request of the Office of the Special State’s Attorney for Cook County, today Cook County Judge Thomas Byrne dismissed all charges against Shawn Whirl, a torture victim from Jon Burge’s notorious reign of terror at the Chicago Police Department.  Mr. Whirl’s 1991 murder conviction was overturned by a unanimous Illinois appellate court in August of this year. Mr. Whirl will be released sometime midday today from Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, Illinois.

46 year-old Mr. Whirl was the first person granted a new trial after a referral by the Illinois Torture Inquiry & Relief Commission, which was established in 2009 to provide an avenue of relief for torture victims of the Chicago Police Department.  Mr. Whirl’s case was among the first cases to be referred by the Commission to the courts. 

When Whirl’s attorneys notified him of his release he said: “How do I feel? Relieved, but also nervous because this feels surreal. I just want to be able to start from somewhere to continue to correct this wrong. I’ve been in a think tank here in prison – I’ve utilized my incarceration to better myself. In order to be upset, you have to have room for anger. And I just don’t have room for that.”

Attorney Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office, who represented Mr Whirl together with his law partner Ben Elson and Tara Thompson of the University of Chicago Exoneration Project, and has been representing police torture victims for nearly 30 years, said:  “This is another important victory, not only for Shawn, but also for the entire movement that has steadfastly fought for justice in the torture cases for many years. That it follows on the heels of the passage of the historic reparations ordinance makes it particularly significant.” 
Ben Elson added, “This case also underscores the importance of a strong and independent Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission in the continuing campaign to seek justice for all police torture victims who remain imprisoned on the basis of confessions that were tortured from them.”Tara Thompson, who spoke with Mr. Whirl yesterday, said, “This case shows that it is never too late for the criminal justice system to right a wrong and to recognize the mistakes of the past.  We want Shawn’s release to give courage and hope to those still locked up for crimes they did not commit.”
Mr. Whirl was convicted of allegedly robbing and murdering a cab driver on the City’s far South Side in 1990.  Soon after the murder, police sought Mr. Whirl, who was then just 20 years old, for questioning.  During his interrogation, as Whirl testified at his evidentiary hearing, he was slapped, stepped on, and subjected to racial slurs by Detective James Pienta–a protégé of Jon Burge who worked with him for 13 years and who has been accused of torture by a series of other African-American men over multiple decades. Mr. Whirl described how, when he did not cooperate with Pienta’s insistence that he confess to this crime, Detective Pienta used a set of keys to repeatedly scrape a wound on Whirl’s leg until it was bloody and raw.  Pienta took the stand at Whirl’s evidentiary hearing for a new trial but declined to testify, exercising his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked a wide ranging set of questions about his role in the pattern and practice of torture. Burge did likewise in a video that was introduced into evidence at the hearing.   
 
Because of this torture, Mr. Whirl ultimately signed a false confession in this case.  He pled guilty and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. In 2012, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission referred Whirl’s case back to the Circuit Court of Cook County for an evidentiary hearing on his torture claim.  The courts initially denied him relief, but on August 12 of this year, an Illinois Appellate Court panel vacated Whirl’s conviction. In a unanimous ruling, the panel condemned the torture of Mr. Whirl, recognized that it was part of a pattern and practice of torture under Burge, and determined that Mr. Whirl should receive a new suppression hearing and, if necessary, a new trial.  That opinion explained that ​”it is impossible to conceive of how the State could prevail at a new suppression hearing with the officer alleged to have coerced a suspect’s confession invoking his privilege against self-incrimination.”  The case then returned to the circuit court, where today the Office of the Special State’s Attorney, exercising its mandate to do justice in cases involving torture, moved to dismiss all charges, citing Detective Pienta’s continuing intention to exercise his Fifth Amendment rights, and conceding that they had no case without the tortured confession.

Mr. Whirl was represented by Flint Taylor, Ben Elson, and Sarah Gelsomino of the People’s Law Office and Tara Thompson of the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School.  University of Chicago Law School students also participated in Mr. Whirl’s representation.
Mr. Whirl and his legal team will hold a press conference on Thursday, October 15, 2015, at 1:00 pm, at the People’s Law Office, 1180 N Milwaukee Ave in Chicago.

Message from Oscar Lopez Rivera

A Special Message on El Grito de Lares from Oscar López-Rivera

For the past thirty-four years, Oscar López-Rivera, the longest held political prisoner in Puerto Rican history, has commemorated El Grito de Lares from within a U.S. prison. From his cell in the Marion Federal Penitentiary, he wrote a brief reflection on the significance of El Grito.

It’s very important to celebrate the Grito de Lares, especially to learn more about that glorious event and to have a good appreciation about the courageous men and women who dared to sow the seed of struggle for the independence and sovereignty of our beloved homeland. We can raise the question, why was the abolition of slavery so important to the heroic women and men who took up arms against Spanish colonialism?  Would the Spaniards have abolished slavery without their uprising? Would the colonizers have continued taking Puerto Ricans for granted? Would the anti-colonial struggle have had the continuity it has been able to have without this event? If the Grito de Lares had not happened, could so many generations of Puerto Rican freedom fighters have given continuity to the anti-colonial struggle?

The best leaders, who have succeeded them and emulated their example, have looked at the Grito de Lares as the most important symbol of the Puerto Rican anti-colonial struggle. They have used it as a platform not only to raise consciousness, but also as one that will not allow Puerto Ricans to forget that we have the potential of becoming an independent and sovereign nation as long as we dare to struggle for it.

For us, El Grito de Lares is as important as the Grito de Dolores is to Mexicans and the Grito de Yara is to our Cuban brothers and sisters. The Grito de Lares was only the beginning of a revolutionary process. Its celebration in the Puerto Rican diaspora and in Puerto Rico confirms that our struggle to end colonialism continues, and that generation after generation has carried in its heart our national boricua identity. Indeed, the seed sown by the heroic women and men in the Grito de Lares—that 23 of September, 1868—has become a perennial one. Our struggle continues and victory will be ours because we dare to struggle and to win.

EN RESISTENCIA Y LUCHA,

Oscar López-Rivera

For more on Oscar López-Rivera and our work supporting the Puerto Rican Independence movement, visit the Puerto Rico page on this site.

Hearing on Reparations Ordinance – Mayor’s Office Announces Support

Mayor’s Office Announces Support for Reparations Legislation; Supporters Pack City Council chambers

This morning, members of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), Amnesty International, USA and representatives of the Mayor’s Office announced an agreement on a reparations package for survivors of torture by Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and officers under his command before a special session of the City Council Finance Committee. The package, based on the Reparations Ordinance introduced in October of 2013 by Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) and Howard Brookins (21st Ward), provides concrete redress to the torture survivors and their family members, which includes: a formal apology for the torture; specialized counseling services to the Burge torture survivors and their family members on the South side; free enrollment and job training in City Colleges for survivors and  family members; a history lesson about the Burge torture cases taught in Chicago Public schools; a permanent public memorial to the survivors; and it sets aside $5.5 million for a Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims that will allow the Burge torture survivors with us today to receive financial compensation for the torture they endured.

This historic agreement is the product of decades of organizing for justice in these cases, and represents the culmination of a concerted six-month campaign led by CTJM, Amnesty International – USA, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide, with the help of several other organizations including BYP100, Chicago Light Brigade and the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression.

Bill sponsor Alderman Moreno said, in support of the bill’s passage, “I call on my fellow aldermen to swiftly pass this reparations package that Mayor Emanuel has agreed to because we have a moral and ethical duty to help these victims and their families. We hope and trust that the healing and forgiving process can begin with the passage of this legislation.”

The reparations package, rooted in a restorative justice framework, acknowledges the torture of Black people under former police commander Jon Burge, and begins to make amends by providing financial compensation and services to the torture survivors and their families. Beyond the financial compensation, the legislation is an important acknowledgment by the city of its responsibility to make amends for the torture, and the decades of denials and cover-ups. It is a significant step towards justice and healing, although nothing can erase the unconscionable human rights violations committed by Burge and his fellow officers.

“The harm that was done by Burge and officers under his command to individuals, to their families, and to Black communities in Chicago cannot be undone,” said Mariame Kaba, founding Director of Project NIA. “It cannot be erased, and the lasting impact of this torture and trauma continues to this day. We keep this knowledge in our hearts and minds. And at the same time, it is important that the city acknowledge and speak to this harm. This ordinance is another step in the long march toward an end to police violence.  It is a modicum of redress.”

Scores of supporters of the legislation filled the City Council chambers to support the survivors of police torture. Several leaders in the movement for reparations gave testimony before the Council Finance Committee in support of the package, including torture survivors and CTJM members Anthony Holmes and Darrell Cannon, Steven Hawkins, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA; Dorothy Burge, member of CTJM and Black People Against Police Torture; Joey Mogul, co-founder of CTJM and partner at the People’s Law Office and Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office.

When describing the ordinance, Darrell Cannon, a survivor of torture by detectives under Burge’s command, said “This is historic.  For those of us who have been fighting and struggling to set a landmark, this is that landmark. This is the moment. What we do here will not be undone. People across the country will talk about Chicago.  It would be the first bill in the US that would provide reparations for law enforcement conduct.”

The Reparations Ordinance was drafted to provide redress to approximately 120 African American men and women subjected to racially-motivated torture, including electric shock, mock executions, suffocation and beatings by now former Police Commander Jon Burge and his subordinates from 1972 through 1991.  Although Burge was convicted on federal charges for perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the torture cases in 2010, he continues to draw a taxpayer funded pension, while scores of Chicago Police Torture survivors continue to suffer from the effects of the torture they endured without any compensation, assistance, or legal redress.

April 14 City Council Hearing on Torture Reparations Ordinance

A City Council Hearing on the Chicago Police Torture Reparations Ordinance has been scheduled!

Reparations Ordinance

Alderman Ed Burke, Chair of the Finance Committee, has announced that the committee will hold a hearing on the Reparations Ordinance on Tuesday, April 14 at 10 am. In recent months, People’s Law Office has joined with Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Amnesty International, BYP100, Chicago Light Brigade, Project NIA, and We Charge Genocide to organize marches, demonstrations, rallies, sing-ins, exhibition-ins, teach-ins and more to demand a hearing and passage of the ordinance; and our efforts are paying off.

As torture survivor and People’s Law Office client Darrell Cannon told the Sun-Times: “People power has a way of getting the attention of the hardest of hearts of politicians.”

Oral Argument in AETA Challenge

On Thursday, February 19, 2015, attorneys for animal rights activists will argue for a motion to dismiss the indictment charging them with violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).  The motion asserts that the AETA is unconstitutional.

Michael Deutsch of People’s Law Office represents Kevin Johnson, one of the two activists. Kevin is also represented by National Lawyers Guild member Lillian McCartin and Rachel Meerpool of Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).  Tyler Lang is represented by Geoffry Meyer of the Federal Defender Program.

The motion will be argued by Rachel Meerpool of CCR, who has represented other animal rights activists who have challenged AETA.

Kevin and Tyler are both animal rights activists and were indicted in July.  The government alleges that last year they released mink from a fur farm in rural Illinois and conspired to release fox from another fur farm.  The government claims that this non-violent act of releasing animals constitutes “terrorism.”  They each face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Details for Argument:

Thursday, February 19 at 10 am.
Dirksen Federal Building
219 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL
Judge Amy St. Eve, Courtroom 1241

Everyone entering the building must go through a metal detector and show a state-issued ID.

 

For More Information on this case and the AETA:

US v. Johnson case documents
Indictment
Motion to Dismiss
Government Response to Motion
Reply to Government’s Response

Background info from People’s Law Office
Read more about our work fighting political repression and representing activists and our representation of Scott DeMuth, who was charged under the AEPA.
For more of our analysis of the impact of AETA, read “AETA and the Criminalization of a Movement”

From CCR
“Freeing Animals is Not ‘Terrorism’”
Case page: US v. Johnson

Super Lawyers Interview with Michael Deutsch

The Atticus of Attica

By Beth Taylor
Published in: 2015 Illinois Super Lawyers — February 2015

From rioting prisoners to Black Panthers to animal-rights defenders, Michael E. Deutsch has been on the front line of the fight for civil rights

Q: What were the roots of your civic activism?

A: I didn’t really become an activist until I got to law school. I graduated [Northwestern] in ’69, right at the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Then I became a law clerk in the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. The Chicago conspiracy trial was going on; these anti-war activists were put on trial for crossing state lines to encourage riots—basically to encourage demonstrations against the war.

It was a very colorful trial, and the defendants were from different parts of the anti-war movement; one was a leader of the Black Panthers. I used to go down there and watch. There was this judge, Julius Hoffman, who was very against the defendants. There was a lot of commotion and a lot of acting out and drama in the courtroom. I became very immersed in wanting to become a lawyer who represents people who are fighting injustice, and [in] working for people’s rights.

I joined a group of lawyers—which I still am part of—called the People’s Law Office, which started in 1969 and is still going strong 45 years later. We represent people who are victims of police abuse and police brutality. We also are very involved in uncovering people who have been wrongfully convicted and have been in prison a long period of time. We’ve been able to free many people from prison.

My first jury trial was on behalf of Black Panthers in southern Illinois who had been attacked by the police and shot back. They were acquitted of 47 counts of attempted murder. So that was a great way to start your legal career.

Then what really influenced my commitment was the Attica prisoners’ rebellion, which happened in September of 1971. I was one of several lawyers who came from different places to represent the Attica prisoners who, by the time I got involved, had been beaten and a lot of them shot, and the prison retaken. We were trying to get them medical care and equal rights.

The state of New York was willing to sacrifice its own guards, who were being held hostage, in order to put down this prison rebellion, even though it could have been negotiated. When they stormed the prison and shot—like a turkey shoot—they killed nine of the hostages. They originally said the hostages had died because their throats had been cut, and of course the coroner determined that they had all been killed by state police bullets.

I helped to organize the legal defense of over 60 prisoners who were facing 1,400 felony counts. We organized a group called the Attica Brothers Legal Defense and I moved to Buffalo, New York, where it was based. I spent the next four or five years going back and forth from Chicago to Buffalo. Ultimately we brought a civil rights case on behalf of the [prisoners] who were killed and tortured after they took over the prison.

I realized, working on the Attica case, how important it was to stand up for people in prison and how bad the conditions and treatment of prisoners were. That was really the cause of the Attica rebellion. I realized that I could walk away from these situations, but those people in prison or the people who were victims of injustice couldn’t. So I made a commitment that that was going to be my life’s work: to expose injustice and fight for equal rights of people.

Q: What was the outcome of the Attica lawsuit?

A: We won at trial for one of the prisoners for $4 million, then that was taken away by the Court of Appeals. But ultimately, we settled the case for $12 million for the victims of Attica.

Q: Have any of your cases taken you before the U.S. Supreme Court?

A: In 1980, I appeared in a case called Carlson v. Green, which was the case that established the right to sue directly under the Eighth Amendment for damages for cruel and unusual punishment.

I represented a black man who died in a Terre Haute, Indiana, federal prison. He was the fourth man to die in the prison hospital within an eight-month period. This man was suffering from a terrible asthma attack; the doctor refused to come, even though he lived on the prison property. After several hours of him fighting for breath, the doctor said, “Give him some Thorazine.” That’s contraindicated for someone who’s having trouble breathing, and he died.

We brought a case for cruel and unusual punishment—basically a denial of medical care. The government said, “You can’t bring a case directly under the Eighth Amendment; it doesn’t provide for a private cause of action.” That case established that right. It was 7-2.

Q: What was it like arguing before the Supreme Court?

A: It’s very intimidating in a way, but I believed very strongly in the case and I had a very strong factual situation. I’m told that Thurgood Marshall kind of poked the judge sitting next to him and said, “Look at this guy; he really believes in his case.”

Then the most interesting thing: Right in the middle of my argument, they bang the gavel and say, “It’s lunchtime.” So they get up and leave. Which is good, in a way, because then I had a whole lunch period to plan the rest of my argument. But it was so shocking. As soon it’s 12 o’clock, no matter what, they just bang the gavel and they get up and leave.

Q: Which justices dissented?

A: Then-Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justice [William] Rehnquist. I recall that Justice Burger was very negative.

Q: Was it an intimidating experience?

A: The lead-up is intimidating: “I’m going to argue in front of the Supreme Court; they’re going to ask me a lot of questions. Am I going to do a good job?” But for me, I’m always very nervous whenever I go into court, no matter what. And I’ve been doing it for all these years. But as soon as I get in there and I lose myself in the struggle and I find a way to express my belief in my client and the issues in the case, nerves dissipate. I was fired up.

Q: Any other cases that really stand out?

A: A case that I’ve done on behalf of a prisoner in Indiana who was on death row and 30 days away from being executed. After many years of fighting for him, and winning once and losing once in the Indiana Supreme Court … they agreed to take the death penalty off the table, and he’ll be eligible for release in two years. He was a young black man who was accused of being involved in a bank robbery in which a police officer was killed.

Q: You also worked for two decades, starting in 1975, on behalf of the Puerto Rican independence movement.

A: I represented Puerto Rican political prisoners in U.S. courts and helped to obtain their freedom and clemency from President Jimmy Carter. I also represented Puerto Rican activists from Chicago and New York who were accused of being terrorists who were involved in clandestine work on behalf of independence. I have also testified before the U.N. decolonization committee and in other international tribunals in support of Puerto Rican independence.

Q: What changes have you seen in our society over the years?

A: One of the things that I’ve been involved with in the last 10 years is representing people accused of being terrorists.

I’ve been representing Palestinian-Americans who have been accused of giving money to people in the occupied territories and charged with providing what they call material support for terrorism. [In] one of the cases I had in Chicago, two Palestinian men, who were from Chicago, were accused of RICO [racketeering and corruption] for being part of an organization in Palestine. [Prosecutors were] saying that was a racketeering-influenced organization. Of course, the jury didn’t buy that; after a long trial, they acquitted them of everything but minor charges.

I’ve seen the courts used, in my view, to repress political activity; to over-punish people. I’ve been involved with a lot of work around the rights of prisoners and challenging high-security units. We brought lawsuits challenging keeping people locked up, basically being evaluated as threats to the institution and then being put in these units for indefinite periods of time—for two, three, four, five years in segregation. No way to get out, and no due process for getting in.

I’ve done some work for animal rights people who have been involved in releasing minks and other animals that are in these fur farms and being treated very badly. And, of course, now they’re accused of terrorism. There’s a statute called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act which makes it a crime, a terrorist crime, to free animals or do any kind of protest about the treatment of animals that interferes with these industrial animal farms.

They have been using RICO in political situations when it was supposed to be used only against organized crime, and that’s what they’ve used with terrorism too. They’ve expanded that use to use it against people who don’t fit the definition of terrorism. Just this year, I represented, with two other lawyers, these young men. My client was just 21 years old; he had come from Florida to be part of the anti-NATO demonstrations because the NATO summit was in Chicago this summer, and they were part of demonstrating and actually causing some kind of vandalism. They were found by these two undercover Chicago police who were encouraging them to take further steps beyond just minor vandalism and talking to them about making Molotov cocktails. Before they did anything—they never were able to do anything—they arrested them and charged them with terrorism.

This was the first time, under Illinois law, they used the terrorism statute since it was passed after 9/11. [They] charged these young guys with providing material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, and possession of an incendiary device with the intent to commit terrorism. We had a long trial in the state court in Chicago and they were convicted of lesser charges. But the terrorism charges were rejected by the jury, which basically said, “We don’t think this is terrorism. These are just young guys who went over the line but certainly aren’t terrorists.”

[In another] case, two young men are accused of freeing minks in Illinois and Iowa, and they’re charged with this Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. It may be against the law, and maybe they can indict them, but why call it terrorism? I’ve found that, if you have a jury and you start talking about terrorism, either they’re going to see it and say, “Well, it’s really not terrorism,” like they said with those NATO kids, or they’re going to be influenced by that and not be able to really fairly look at the evidence. It’s a very prejudicial kind of charge.

I’ve done a lot of work representing people who are subpoenaed to grand juries, and wrote a long law review article in 1984 that’s still being quoted by people who are opposing grand juries about how the power of the grand jury is being abused by the federal government—being usurped by federal prosecutors when the grand jury is supposed to be an independent institution.

Q: Are you seeing a lot of repercussions from what’s going on with ISIS?

A: The FBI is concerned that there are people who have gone from the U.S. over to fight with that group and other groups in Syria. The FBI is very active in terms of investigating and surveilling the Arab and Muslim communities in Chicago and in New York as well.

I’m involved in a case right now in Detroit where a Palestinian woman, who’s 67 years old—lived in this country for 20 years—was arrested because they said 10 years ago when she filled out her naturalization papers, they asked her if she was ever arrested, convicted or imprisoned, and she filled out “no, no, no.” It turns out 45 years ago, in 1969 when she was a 22-year-old student, she was allegedly involved in resistance to the new occupation when the Israelis went into Gaza and the West Bank in 1967. She was put into a military tribunal that they set up, she was horrifically tortured, and she was found guilty of being involved in resistance activities against the Israel occupation.

She’s been in this country 20 years. The reason, I believe, they brought these charges is because she’s very active in the Palestinian community in Chicago and part of the Arab American Action Network. We’re saying it’s politically motivated.

Q: You are a past legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.

A: It was started [in 1966] by lawyers who were involved in the civil rights movement in the South. One of the founders was William Kunstler, who was a well-known civil rights lawyer; [also] Arthur Kinoy and others. They set up this office in New York, and over the years it’s expanded to be involved in international human rights, women’s rights, labor rights, all kinds of different work on behalf of people who are fighting for justice in the courts.

From 1991 to 1996 I was fortunate enough to be the legal director of that institution. We had about 10 lawyers and we had a lot of cooperating lawyers who would donate their services to work on a civil rights case with the center. It’s still going strong; it was very involved in challenging the people who were put in Guantanamo and got some good opinions from the Supreme Court about that.

I was involved in several cases when I was there. One that I was proud of was getting an injunction against preventing homeless people, who were getting harassed and beaten up in Penn Station. The police would see them as homeless and jump on them and throw them out. The court said they had a right to be there and to stop any type of abuse and harassment.

Q: What do you like the best and least about your job?

A: I like fighting for people’s rights and exposing injustice. Having to be creative about how to present people’s cases to juries, basically. The thing I like least is being in front of judges who are not open-minded and are basically so pro-prosecution or pro-government that they won’t listen to reasonable arguments.

Q: What has changed in the legal arena since 1969?

A: The law has become more restrictive and the judiciary has become more conservative. Of course, I came at the time of the Warren court. After Attica, there was a period of time in which courts were trying to give prisoners constitutional rights and protect their conditions and treatment. [Recently] we’ve seen a more conservative court, both in the federal district court level and, of course, in the Supreme Court. Also, I think we’ve seen a rollback on certain basic civil rights that were being protected when I first started practicing. Even in the criminal defense field, it’s much harder to defend people, and the law has restricted some of the rights of people who are accused of crimes. We have the influx of mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws. When Attica happened, there were 200,000 people in state and federal prisons—that was in 1971, 1972. Today we have like 2.5 million.

This idea that we could somehow deal with crime by locking up more people for longer periods of time, that was the ethic that kind of took over—particularly the war on drugs and this idea that we needed to be harsher and [offer] less rehabilitation in prisons.

Q: Do you see this trend continuing?

A: The pendulum is starting to swing slowly back the other way—I think because of the financial problems that we’re experiencing. I don’t think there’s a strong sentiment among legislatures or judges that, “Oh, we’ve locked up too many people and we’re being too harsh.” But we’re spending too much money on prisons … and that’s what I think is causing the pendulum to slowly move back.

The federal sentencing guidelines are not mandatory anymore—judges can look at them but they don’t have to follow them in federal court. That’s a good development. There are rulings by federal judges about keeping people locked up indefinitely in isolation units; they’re starting to say that mentally ill people shouldn’t be kept isolated. So there’s a beginning of some liberalizing or progressive movement, but it’s slow. The pendulum has swung so far the other way, it’s going to take a while to swing back. But I’m optimistic.

International Human Rights Day and Police Abuse in the US

On International Human Rights Day, Consider the U.N.‘s Statements on the American Justice System

We usually think of “human rights abuses” as something that occur abroad. But recent U.N. proceedings have strong words for the U.S.’s domestic and international activities.
                              
BY Flint Taylor
Originally posted at In These Times
It is well past time for U.S. and local governmental officials to heed the recent findings of the U.N. Committee Against Torture and the urgings of the High Commissioner
.
Today is International Human Rights Day, first declared in 1950 by the United Nations in order to “bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” It’s a fitting day, then, to consider the recent proceedings before and findings of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, (CAT). Released before the gruesome Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation practices yesterday, the committee had strong words for the U.S.’s domestic and international human rights record.
In mid-November, representatives of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project and We Charge Genocide, the parents of Michael Brown, and other activists journeyed to Geneva, Switzerland and presented evidence concerning law enforcement violence and torture in Chicago, across the United States, and at Guantanamo, to the experts of the CAT. When representatives of the United States Government presented its defense to the documented charges, many in the audience , led by the We Charge Genocide delegation, stood and unfurled signs in silent protest. On November 20th, the CAT issued its findings on these and other related human rights issues.
Chicago
With regard to the ongoing Chicago police torture scandal, which the CAT first cited in its 2006 findings, and the ongoing police violence against African Americans and Latinos in Chicago, the CAT first addressed the need for specific legislation making torture by law enforcement officers a federal crime, referencing the Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act, which has been introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Danny Davis on two separate occasions and would make police torture a federal crime without a statute of limitations.
In the report, the Committee specifically addresses the Chicago police torture scandal, stating that
with regard to the acts of torture committed by CPD Commander Jon Burge and others under his command between 1972 and 1991, the Committee notes … that a federal rights investigation did not develop sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that prosecutable constitutional violations occurred. However, … despite the fact that Jon Burge was convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, no Chicago police officer has been convicted for these acts of torture for reasons including the statute of limitations expiring. … [S]everal victims were ultimately exonerated of the underlying crimes, [but] the vast majority of those tortured—most of them African Americans—have received no compensation for the extensive injuries suffered.
The Committee renewed its call for torture prosecutions and gave a strong endorsement to the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project’s campaign for financial, psychological, medical, and educational reparations for the survivors of Burge-related torture by calling on the government to provide for the “redress for CPD torture survivors by supporting the passage of the Ordinance entitled Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors.” Reparations such as those sought in Chicago are called for by General Comment 3 to Article 14 of the UN Convention Against Torture.
The CAT also stated, in response to a report presented by We Charge Genocide, that it was “particularly concerned at the reported current police violence in Chicago, especially against African-American and Latino young people who are allegedly being consistently profiled, harassed and subjected to excessive force by Chicago Police,” and with the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”
Use of Tasers
The Committee also examined law enforcement’s use of Tasers on unarmed citizens, stating that it was “appalled at the number of reported deaths after the use of electrical discharge weapons” and singling out the recent cases of Israel “Reefa” Hernández Llach in Miami Beach, Florida, and Dominique Franklin Jr. in Sauk Village, Illinois.
It also urged that tasers be used “exclusively in extreme and limited situations —where there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury—as a substitute for lethal weapons and by trained law enforcement personnel only,” that tasers be prohibited from use on children and pregnant women, that they be subjected to “principles of necessity and proportionality” and that they be “inadmissible in the equipment of custodial staff in prisons or any other place of deprivation of liberty.” The Committee urged the U.S. “to provide more stringent instructions to law enforcement personnel entitled to use electric discharge weapons, and to strictly monitor and supervise their use through mandatory reporting and review of each use.”
Prisons, the Death Penalty, and Juvenile Justice
The CAT also addressed the death penalty and numerous systemic human rights violations within the prisons and jails of the U.S. adult and juvenile justice system. The Committee condemned the torturous suffering that has accompanied numerous executions across the country, referencing the use of untested lethal drug cocktails, and called for a moratorium on the death penalty and commutation of death sentences  “with a view to abolish” the measure.
It also condemned sexual and other related prison violence, particularly against LGBTQ and mentally disturbed prisoners, the proliferation of deaths in custody, the shackling of pregnant prisoners, and the use super max prisons and other forms of extended solitary confinement. The committee recommended the prohibition of both solitary confinement for juveniles and the placement of juveniles in adult prisons, the abolishment of life without parole sentences for juveniles regardless of the crime for which they were convicted, and argued for a commitment to seeking alternatives to prison.
Guantanamo and the Use of Torture
Writing before the release of the government report on C.I.A. detention and interrogation after 9/11, the Committee expressed “its deep concern” that the U.S. government “continues to hold a number of individuals without charge at Guantanamo Bay detention facilities” as “enemy belligerents” whom the U.S. claims it is “entitled to hold” “until the end of the hostilities.” The CAT then reiterated that, in its view, this “indefinite detention constitutes … a violation” of the U.N. Convention Against Torture. It cited as evidence that out of the 148 men still held at Guantanamo, only 33 have been designated for potential prosecution, in violation of international fair trial standards, and further articulated its concern that “federal courts have rejected a significant number of habeas corpus petitions.”
Regarding the conditions at Guantanamo, the Committee “remained concerned about the secrecy surrounding conditions of confinement,” and noted “the studies received on the cumulative effect that the conditions of detention and treatment in Guantanamo have had on the psychological health of detainees.” It cited the nine deaths in Guantanamo during the period under its review, including seven suicides, repeated suicide attempts and the “recurrent mass hunger strike protests by detainees over indefinite detention and conditions of detention.” Additionally, it condemned the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes, sometimes reportedly administered in an unnecessarily brutal and painful manner, which “constitutes ill-treatment in violation of the Convention.”
The Committee called on the U.S. government to
  • Cease the use of indefinite detention without charge or trial for individuals suspected of terrorism-related activities;
  • Ensure that detainees held at Guantanamo who are designated for potential prosecution be charged and tried in ordinary federal civilian courts;
  • Immediately release any other detainees who are not to be charged or tried;
  • Provide access to detainees and their counsel to all evidence used to justify the detention;
  • Investigate allegations of detainee abuse, including torture and ill-treatment, appropriately prosecute those responsible, and ensure effective redress for victims;
  • Improve the detainees’ situation so as to persuade them to cease the hunger strike;
  • Put an end to force-feeding of detainees on hunger strikes as long as they are able to make informed decisions;
  • Invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, with full access to the detainees, including private meetings with them, in conformity with the terms of reference for fact-finding missions by the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council;
  • Declassify torture evidence, in particular Guantanamo detainees’ accounts of torture; and
  • Ensure that all victims of torture are able to access a remedy and obtain redress, wherever acts of torture occurred and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim.
And, most significantly, the CAT reiterated its earlier recommendation that the U.S. “should close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.”
The Committee also decried the lack of prosecutions for, and transparency about, numerous apparent criminal acts, including homicides and enforced disappearances, committed by C.I.A. operatives, the U.S. military, and other U.S. agents at foreign locations including in Afghanistan, and as part of the U.S. Government’s rendition program—a call that was echoed today by U.N. officials in the wake of the C.I.A. torture report. It condemned the continued use of sleep and sensory deprivation, including blindfolds, goggles, and earmuffs, as interrogation techniques. It also called for an absolute bar to torture in all forms and circumstances, including where terrorism is alleged, and for the “declassification and prompt public release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the C.I.A.’s secret detention and interrogation program with minimal redactions.”
The Michael Brown case
Despite a compelling closed-door presentation by Michael Brown’s parents, the C.A.T. did not expressly mention the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in its report. When queried about this omission, a Committee member stated that the C.A.T. “has to respect the decision” of authorities not to prosecute Officer Darren Wilson.
However, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, in response to the Ferguson Grand Jury’s decision, issued a statement which articulated a “deep concern” about U.S. racism and its connection to law enforcement violence:
I am deeply concerned at the disproportionate number of young African Americans who die in encounters with police officers, as well as the disproportionate number of African Americans in U.S. prisons and the disproportionate number of African Americans on Death Row. It is clear that, at least among some sectors of the population, there is a deep and festering lack of confidence in the fairness of the justice and law enforcement systems. I urge the U.S. authorities to conduct in-depth examinations into how race-related issues are affecting law enforcement and the administration of justice, both at the federal and state levels.
On this, the 64th annual International Human Rights Day, it is well past time for U.S. and local governmental officials to heed the recent findings of the U.N. Committee Against Torture and the urgings of the High Commissioner by implementing the systemic changes that the Committee has recommended in its Report. To continue to ignore the problems that the CAT has identified and the remedies it suggests will doom people of color here and abroad to further racist law enforcement violence and the continuation of a fundamentally unjust criminal justice system.

 

Motion to Dismiss Filed on Behalf of Animal Rights Activists

Today, attorneys representing animal rights activists Kevin Johnson and Tyler Lang filed a motion to dismiss the indictment charging them with violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).  The motion asserts that the AETA is unconstitutional.

Kevin Johnson is represented by Michael Deutsch of People’s Law Office with co-counsel National Lawyers Guild member Lillian McCartin and Rachel Meerpool of Center for Constitutional Rights.  Tyler Lang is represented by Geoffry Meyer of the Federal Defender Program.

Kevin and Tyler are both animal rights activists and were indicted in July.  The government alleges that last year they released mink from a fur farm in rural Illinois and conspired to release fox from another fur farm.  The government claims that this non-violent act of releasing animals constitutes “terrorism.”  They each face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The AETA, which we have written about before, was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2006, amending and expanding the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA).  The act makes “damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise” or “intentionally plac[ing] a person in fear of death or serious bodily injury” federal crimes of terrorism.

The motion filed today argues that the AETA is unconstitutional because it makes no distinction between loss caused by criminal acts and loss caused by boycotts and other constitutionally-protected activity, and that, in any event, punishing non-violent activity as “terrorism” is an unconstitutional denial of due process.

Our work representing Kevin Johnson is part of our continued commitment to combating state repression and defending activists who are labeled “terrorists” based on their political beliefs.

For more information on the case:
Read the Motion to Dismiss and Indictment
Read more about our work fighting political repression and representing activists
Read about our representation of Scott DeMuth, who was charged under the AEPA.
“Freeing Animals is Not ‘Terrorism’” by CCR
Read CCR’s case page: US v. Johnson

Rasmea Odeh Trial to Begin Tuesday

Michael Deutsch (left) and Rasmea Odeh (right)

Palestinian-American community activist Rasmea Odeh is scheduled to go to trial in Detroit on Tuesday, November 4.  Odeh, represented by Michael Deutsch of People’s Law Office and attorney Jim Fennerty is being charged in Federal Court for failing to disclose a prior conviction in her immigration application to the United States.

The prior conviction was in Israel and related to a 1969 bombing at a supermarket in Jerusalem.  Odeh had been arrested, interrogated and tortured by the Israeli military.  As a result of the torture, she confessed to involvement with the bombing.

She served 10 years in prison in Israel and after she was released, she traveled to Geneva where she testified about the torture she suffered at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces.  Odeh then lived in Lebanon and Jordan before immigrating to the United States in 1994.

Since living in the United States, Odeh has been an active member of the Palestinian-American community and became the deputy director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN).  AAAN is a Chicago-based non-profit that provides services, organizes anti-discrimination campaigns and Palestinian solidarity work.

This Palestinian solidarity work has made AAAN the target of government surveillance.  In 2010 the AAAN was investigated by the FBI and the FBI raided the home of Hatem Abudayyeh, AAAN’s executive director.  As part of this investigation, the FBI wanted more information on Rasmea’s background and sent a request to the Israeli government to pull her file.

Rasmea’s case exemplifies the willingness of the federal government to use criminal legal system against the Palestinian-American community.  People’s Law Office is proud to represent Rasmea and to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

Follow People’s Law Office on Twitter and Facebook for updates on the trial.

For more information about Rasmea’s case:
Listen to attorney Michael Deutsch and co-counsel Jim Fennerty speak about Rasmea’s case on Worldview on WBEZ

Tortured and Raped by Israel, Persecuted by the United States by Dahr Jamail in Truthout

Judge deals major blow to Rasmea Odeh’s defense by Charlotte Silver on Electronic Intifada

Federal Judge Won’t Delay Trial for Arab Activist in Detroit Free Press

 

To learn more about the work of People’s Law Office defending those targeted by the government, read the Political Repression page on this site