Reparations Won: An Historic Victory in the Struggle Aginst Chicago Police Torture

The 20 year reign of police torture that was orchestrated by Commander Jon Burge and implicated former Mayor Richard M. Daley and a myriad of high ranking police and prosecutorial ocials, has haunted the City of Chicago for decades. Finally, on May 6, 2015, in response to a movement that has spanned a generation, the Chicago City Council formally recognized this sordid history by passing historic legislation that provided reparations to the survivors of police torture in Chicago.

Read more about this in the July/August 2015, Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Law Report.

Illinois Appellate Court Issues an Important Decision in Shawn Whirl’s Police Torture Case

On August 12, 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court issued an important decision in the Shawn Whirl police torture case that  was litigated by Flint Taylor and Ben Elson of the People’s Law Office and Tara Thompson of the University of Chicago Exoneration Project. The Appellate Court, in a 36 page opinion, held that Whirl, who had consistently maintained that he was tortured into giving a false confession by an Area 2 detective who had previously worked for decades with Jon Burge, was entitled to a new motion to suppress hearing on the question of whether his confession was tortured from him and should consequently be barred from evidence at a new trial. The Court all but mandated that Whirl, who has spent 25 years in prison, be released without the formality of a new hearing and trial, finding that “it is impossible to conceive how the State could prevail at a new suppression hearing,” and that “without Whirl’s confession, the State’s case was non-existent.” Whirl’s lawyers have called on the Special Prosecutor, who represents the State in the Whirl case, to heed the clear message in the Court’s opinion and agree to dismiss Whirl’s case rather than pursuing further appeals at the taxpayers’ expense.

Read the opinion here.

Listen to the oral argument made by attorney G. Flint Taylor here.

Also, follow the links to the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times articles.

NLG International Committee Testimony to UN Decolonization Committee – Hearings on Puerto Rico 6/22/15

Jan Susler, partner at the PLO and co-chair of the NLG International Committee’s Puerto Rico Subcommittee, testified before the United Nations Decolonization Committee, urging that Puerto Ricans be able to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination, free of U.S. colonialism June 22, 2015. Read or download the full testimony as PDF here and see the UN’s press statement about the hearing at their website here.


This was originally posted on the National Lawyers Guild website.

Reflecting Upon the Recent Police Standoff in Edgewater

A week ago, there were reports of a police standoff for five hours overnight in Edgewater that brought scores of police vehicles to a several block area and resulted in the arrests of over 30 men, women and children charged with a minor offense of disturbing the peace, a misdemeanor charge. Police were responding to gunshots that they ultimately determined came from behind the apartment and the 30 or partygoers. Many neighbors who were evacuated or told to go back into their houses, have continuing concerns about violence and drug activity in their mixed race, mixed income neighborhood. This is a sentiment they share with many urban Chicagoans. However, the incident bears reflection and raises many questions for our communities about responsible policing and the accountability of law enforcement.

Was the police action a measured response to legitimate concerns of violence? Or was the police response a show of force and intimidation directed at certain people? Why were over 30 people of color marched out of a residence and charged with minor crimes. Why was the neighborhood under siege for five hours and the streets packed curb to curb with police patrol cars, squadrols and armoured Hummer-style trucks?

We must ask these questions and others. We cannot afford to just accept a thin police narrative of events and move on. In Chicago, the police’s account of incidents has proven untrustworthy, as demonstrated by recent lawsuits that have impeached their versions of police shootings of Black men.  As civilians it is incumbent upon us to ensure our public officials are accountable to us for their actions, including law enforcement personnel as our nation becomes increasingly desensitized to police violence tactics. This is not to judge or criticize with bias but bring fairness, justice and freedom from violence for all.

This was written by PLO attorney Janine Hoft

Reparations: A Blueprint to address systemic police violence

The City of Chicago made history on Wednesday May 6 when it passed legislation providing reparations to survivors of racially motivated police torture committed between 1972 and 1991. Once implemented, it will offer a measure of hope to survivors, their family members and African American communities devastated by the legacy of torture committed by infamous former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and detectives under his command.

It represents a bold break with the status quo, representing the first time that a municipality reparationswon-2 (1)in the United States – - a nation with a long tradition of unanswered calls for redress for systemic race based violence, including slavery and lynchings – - will provide reparations to those harmed by law enforcement violence.   It can serve as a blueprint for what reparations might look like for systemic police abuse plaguing cities across the nation

Chicago’s reparations package was driven by the inadequacy of traditional legal remedies to make individuals and communities whole for systemic harm. After decades of litigation, activism and investigative journalism, the truth about systemic torture of African Americans by white detectives to secure confessions, involving electric shock, suffocation, and mock execution, often accompanied by racialized abuse, was exposed.  Yet full accountability proved elusive.

The statute of limitations precluded Burge and his men from being held criminally or civilly responsible for their crimes of torture (although Burge was ultimately convicted in 2010 for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about the torture he and others committed). They enjoyed decades of torturing with impunity, courtesy of a cover up by the Chicago Police Department’s chain of command and governmental officials, including former Mayor Richard M. Daley.  Moreover, the limited remedies offered by civil litigation – financial settlements that were often meager and practically unavailable to the vast majority of survivors – were inadequate to address the trauma and material needs of the torture survivors, their family members and communities.

Burge’s legacy of torture left festering wounds that remain open to this day. Many survivors continue to suffer from nightmares and flashbacks, grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder that has gone untreated for decades.  They live under a shroud of shame, guilt, and anguish that undermines their ability to form relationships and share community with others.  Survivors’ family members were also left to contend with their secondary trauma in isolation, after their fathers, sons and partners were ripped from them.  As whispers of the torture spread, entire communities lived in fear that they or their loved ones would be disappeared from street corners or homes into the bowels of police stations to be tortured and terrorized.  The torture, like lynchings, served to terrorize entire African American communities.

Recognizing the lack of redress for these systemic harms, Standish Willis, founder of Black People Against Police Torture, made the initial call for reparations.  Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM), a grassroots group of artists, activists, attorneys and survivors, amplified this call by asking police torture survivors and the larger community to imagine how they would publicly memorialize these cases recognizing the difficulty and immensity of depicting the harms perpetrated, while also recognizing the struggle waged by many for justice for decades.  Through art charrettes, teach-ins, creative outreach and community dialogue, CTJM sought to spark the collective imagination of communities to conceptualize what was necessary for the City to provide in order for individuals and communities to heal from torture.  This call served to redirect everyone’s attention beyond the usual cries for accountability for police brutality and to focus on holistic means of meeting the material needs of all members of impacted communities, and offering positive visions for healing and repair.

Given the glaring lack of precedent in the U.S., CTJM looked to the U.N. Convention Against Torture’s principles of restitution, rehabilitation, compensation and public acknowledgment. CTJM also consulted with Juan Mendez, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, himself a survivor of torture in Argentina, and relied on the expansive scope of reparations provided for atrocities committed under the Pinochet regime in Chile when conceiving of the essential elements of the original legislation (a CTJM member is a Chilean torture survivor who fought for reparations in Chile as well).

Ultimately, the reparations package, brought to fruition by an inspiring multiracial and intergenerational campaign led by CTJM, Amnesty International, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide, within the larger context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, achieved far more than any individual criminal prosecution or lawsuit could afford.  In addition to financial compensation to all individual survivors, it includes a legislative admission and apology by the City of Chicago for the torture committed by city employees, settling the historical record and placing this systemic pattern and practice of torture beyond dispute.  The reparations package also includes the creation of a center on Chicago’s Southside where survivors can access specialized trauma counseling services. It extends benefits like job placement, and free tuition at City Colleges for the torture survivors and their families.

Reparations are also an exercise in collective grief, catharsis and healing. As part of this process of narrating and commemorating what Burge torture survivors endured, the City of Chicago will not only create a permanent public memorial, it will also create a living memorial through an 8th and 10th grade curriculum for Chicago Public schools about the reparationswon-3 (1)Burge torture cases.  The hope is that by inscribing these cases both figuratively and literally into the collective memory, generations to come will ensure torture is never again committed in our name.

Like every reparations process, there have been fair critiques for being too narrowly focused and not ambitiously seeking redress for every case of police torture. However, while the reparations for Burge survivors focus on a finite set of particularly egregious cases, they can still serve as a model in other cities. Ultimately, each process will be unique and place specific.  But Chicago’s journey provides some guideposts for municipalities to consider beyond changes in police policies that have left both victims and communities affected by racist police violence unable to heal.

There is no question that excessive force, in many instances amounting to torture, causes physical injuries and leaves psychological scars. As noted by sociologists Amanda Geller and Jeffrey Fagan in their study of the impacts of the New York City Police Department’s stop and frisk practices, even less egregious forms of discriminatory policing cause significant individual and collective emotional harm.

Municipalities need not shoulder this burden alone. There are approximately 40 federally funded centers throughout the U.S. offering psychological treatment to torture survivors – but unfortunately, they are only permitted to provide services to people who have been tortured outside the U.S.  It is time for federal government to recognize that law enforcement officials torture people in the U.S. and that survivors need access to the same services we rightfully offer survivors of torture around the world.

Ultimately, Chicago’s approach to systemic racial harm offers a glimmer of a possible future in which the nation as a whole might finally grapple with reparations for the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and its direct descendant, mass incarceration, each of which echo through the Chicago Police Torture cases.

Joey Mogul is a partner at the People’s Law Office who has represented Burge torture survivors for the last 18 years.  Mogul co-founded the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials and drafted the original reparations ordinance.

A smaller version of this piece appeared in Time.Com, along with the fierce thoughts of courageous Chicago Police torture survivor and activist Darrell Cannon.

City Council Makes History in Passing Reparations Legislation for Burge Torture Survivors

The Largest Gathering of Burge Torture Survivors Witnessed the Historic Vote

This morning Chicago Police torture survivors and their family members attended a Chicago City Council hearing to witness passage of historic legislation providing reparations for the torture they and scores of other African American men and women survived at the hands of Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and officers under his command.  Some of the torture survivors and family members traveled out of the City and State to attend the hearing.

The reparations package is the product of decades of organizing, litigation, and investigative journalism, and represents the culmination of an inspiring intergenerational and interracial campaign led by CTJM, Amnesty International, USA, Project NIA and We Charge Genocide, re-invigorated by the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  Forty-six organizations endorsed the ordinance, the U.N. Committee Against Torture specifically called on the U.S. Government to support the passage of the legislation and scores of Chicagoans attended demonstrations, rallies, sing-ins and a Citywide Teach-ins over the last six months to urge Mayor Emanuel to support the reparations ordinance.

“Over the course of the past 6 months, a coalition of individuals and groups organized tirelessly to achieve this goal. Today’s historic achievement, passage of the reparations ordinance, is owed to the decades of organizing to bring some justice to the survivors of Burge and his fellow officers’ unconscionable torture. We have successfully organized to preserve the public memory of the atrocities experienced by over 110 black people at the hands of Chicago police torture because we refuse to let anyone in this city ever forget what happened here,” said Mariame Kaba, founder and executive director of Project NIA.

The reparations resolution represents the first time Chicago’s City Council has formally acknowledged and taken responsibility for the police torture that occurred in Chicago, and recognized its obligation to provide concrete redress to the survivors and family members.  In addition to the establishment of a $5.5 million Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims, the City will provide survivors and their families specialized counseling services at a center on the South side, free enrollment in City Colleges, and priority access to job training, housing and other city services. Additionally, a history lesson about the Burge torture cases will henceforth be taught in Chicago Public schools and a permanent public memorial will be erected to commemorate the torture and survivors.

“It is the first time that a municipality in the United States has ever offered reparations to those violated law enforcement officials,” said Joey Mogul, a co-founder of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, partner at the People’s Law Office and drafter of the original reparations ordinance. “This holistic model should serve as a blueprint for how cities around the country, from Ferguson to Baltimore, can respond to systemic racist police brutality.”

The final legislation was the product of an agreement reached with Mayor Emanuel, CTJM and Amnesty International, USA on the eve of an April 14, 2015 hearing on the original reparations Ordinance introduced into City Council by Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) and Howard Brookins (21st Ward) in October of 2013.

While torture survivors, family members, and activists were pleased with the reparations package passed today, they noted that much more work needs to be done to address racially motivated police violence in the City of Chicago.

“Today is an important and historic day, and the result of a courageous, decades-long effort to seek justice. But this is not the end. We must make sure that this curriculum places torture under Burge in a broader context of ongoing and endemic police violence. We must expand counseling and treatment services so they’re available for all survivors of police violence. And more broadly, we must fight for an end not only to these horrific acts of torture, and police shootings of Black youth, but also against the daily police harassment and profiling of young people of color in Chicago and across the country,” said Page May, an organizer and activist with We Charge Genocide.

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.

Landmark Torture Reparations Agreement Announced at Historic City Council Hearing

People’s Law Office partners Joey Mogul and Flint Taylor, who are also members of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, and have represented many Chicago police torture survivors over the decades, were involved with CTJM and Amnesty International in the lengthy negotiations that brought the historic torture Reparations agreement with the City to fruition. Mogul and Taylor, who, together with torture survivors Darrell Cannon and Anthony Holmes, and several CTJM members testified at the April 14th hearing before the Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee, released the following joint statement:

We are gratified, that after so many years of denial and cover-up by the Daley administration, Mayor Emanuel and his Corporation Counsel have recognized the needs of the torture survivors and their families and negotiated this historic reparations agreement with the survivors’ representatives. It is the first of its kind in this country, and its passage and implementation will go a long way to remove the longstanding stain of police torture from the conscience of the city.

For further information, see: Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, CTJM Statement.

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.”

To Catch a Torturer: One Attorney’s Pursuit of Jon Burge

To Catch A Torturer: One Attorney’s 28-year Pursuit of Racist Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge
By Flint Taylor of People’s Law Office
Originally published at In These Times

On February 13, 2015, former Chicago Police Commander Jon G. Burge was released from Federal custody, having served a little less than four years of his four-and-a-half year sentence for lying under oath about whether he tortured scores of African-American men during his time as commander. Less than a week before, I sat across from him in a small room in Tampa, Florida, questioning him, pursuant to a court order, yet again about his role in a torture case—this time, the case of Alonzo Smith, who was repeatedly suffocated with a plastic bag and beaten with a rubber nightstick in the basement of the Area 2 police station by two of Burge’s most violent henchmen after Burge informed him that they “would get him to talk, one way or another.”

Reading from a prepared script, the 67-year-old Burge, weakened by several physical ailments but nonetheless exhibiting a hostility that has marked our many encounters over the years, responded to my first question by once again invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. He then stood up, informed me that he would not respond to any further questions, and started to leave the room.

After I told him that he would be in violation of the judge’s order if he left before I had finished my questioning, he reluctantly returned, and asserted the Fifth Amendment to each and every subsequent question, including to the most damning one: Was the torture of Smith part of a pattern and practice of systemic and racist torture and abuse against African-American men which he orchestrated? After a contentious concluding exchange between us, a look of smug self-satisfaction came across his face as he answered my final question by stating, “I exercise my Fifth Amendment rights—even though I would like to say you are a liar.”

Of course the answer to that question of the systemic and racist nature of Burge’s torture is now well established by a mountain of evidence that has been assembled over nearly three decades in the teeth of an unremitting official cover-up that has implicated a series of police superintendents, numerous prosecutors, more than 30 police detectives and supervisors, and, most notably, Richard M. Daley, first as the State’s Attorney of Cook County, then as Chicago’s long-serving Mayor, in a police torture scandal that had spanned the more than 40 years that I had been a lawyer at the People’s Law Office.

A torturer in blue

My law partners, Jeffrey Haas and John Stainthorp, and I first became aware of Jon Burge and his connection to police torture in 1987 when Andrew Wilson, a convicted cop killer, called us from death row and asked us to represent him in the pro se lawsuit that he had filed against Burge and several of his associates at Area 2 Detective headquarters. Wilson’s allegations were chilling: suffocation with a bag, burns from a cigarette, beatings, and, most frightening, repeated electric shocks from a black shock box to his genitals, ears and fingers that caused him to be badly burned on a steam radiator across which he was handcuffed at the time he was shocked. With some trepidation, we took the case, and I was soon sitting across from Burge in a small conference room confronting him about his torture of Wilson.

At that time, Burge was at the height of his powers, having recently been promoted from Lieutenant to Commander, completing a meteoric rise in rank in the Chicago Police Department. Burly, red-faced and supremely arrogant, Burge had used his clout with the city to retain, at taxpayer’s expense, a former Deputy to then-State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley to represent him. Posturing as a hero for capturing Wilson and obtaining his confession, Burge vehemently denied any wrongdoing and scoffed at my persistent attempts to expose his lies.

In the winter of 1989, the Wilson civil case went to trial before a Judge, Brian Duff, who referred to Wilson in an off-the-record comment as the “scum of the earth.” Burge took the stand and I was once again thrust into the role of his interrogator.

After the first day of my cross examination, we received a voicemail at our office from an anonymous source. This source, whom we later dubbed “Deep Badge,” worked with Burge at Area 2 and supplied us with information which began the process of blowing the lid off the cover-up. Deep Badge informed us of another Burge electric shock victim, Melvin Jones; the names of Burge’s co-conspirators; and claimed that State’s Attorney Daley and Mayor Jane Byrne were aware of Wilson’s torture.

We sought to confront Burge before the jury with this newly discovered evidence, but the judge, while recognizing that this evidence was “explosive,” would not let me do so. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury, unaware of the unravelling cover-up, hung, necessitating a second trial.

While we awaited the re-trial, we pursued the leads given to us by “Deep Badge” and found a number of other torture victims who were serving time based on confessions tortured from them by Burge and his confederates. One of them was Anthony Holmes, who was tortured with electric shock by Burge just after he became a detective in 1973. Armed with this information, I again deposed Burge, who brazenly denied any misconduct in each and every one of the newly discovered cases. At the re-trial, Judge Duff denied us the right to confront Burge with these newly discovered cases, and when I tried to do so, the judge, egged on by Burge’s lawyer, repeatedly held me and my co-counsel in contempt.

As a result of the judge’s unremitting bias in favor of Burge and his lawyers, after an eight-week second trial, the all-white jury absolved Burge. We appealed the decision, and the evidence that we had uncovered compelled the Chicago Police Department to reopen its investigation into the Wilson case and to pursue the question of whether the torture was systemic.

The investigation produced two determinations: that Burge should be fired for his torture of Wilson, and that the torture at Area 2 was “systematic” and implicated command personnel. The Department moved to fire Burge—while suppressing the findings of systematic torture.

Targeted by Burge

During this period, the reality of personal risk became more apparent. Burge publicly called me an “idiot” in response to my testimony before the Chicago City Council, and his defense committee and the Fraternal Order of Police repeatedly mounted personal attacks against me and my law partners. A friendly police employee told us of an alleged threat that Burge had made to “blow us away.”

I spoke with another unnamed Burge associate on the phone who asserted that Burge had tortured innocent suspects and women, and an African-American former detective who worked in Area 2 clandestinely came to our office and told me about a Burge torture scene he had witnessed in 1973. Unknown to us at the time, Burge had enlisted one of his former associates to comb the Area 2 files in an attempt to discover the identity of Deep Badge. (I also learned from a neighbor that Burge had a boat. The neighbor had seen Burge cruising in Chicago’s Monroe Street Harbor; the boat was aptly named “The Vigilante.”)

Burge was brought to trial before the Chicago Police Board in the winter of 1992, amid a local furor that was occasioned by our successfully obtaining the public release of the CPD’s finding of systematic torture, a rally for Burge which attracted 3,000 cops and prosecutors and a boisterous counter rally that the Task Force to Confront Police Violence organized. Jeff Haas, who was a moving force in the Task Force, and I often attended the six-week Police Board hearing, at which Wilson, Jones and a third Burge victim all testified.

Burge took the stand and denied that he tortured these men, and we suffered Burge’s wrath when we publicly commented on the evidence. Nearly a year later, the Police Board issued its decision to fire Burge, and I was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times as saying that “the person in charge of the systematic torture had been fired,” and that the department should “implement” the findings of systematic torture by “clean[ing] house.”

On the heels of the Police Board decision, the Fraternal Order of Police unsuccessfully attempted to honor Burge with a float in the St. Patrick Day’s Parade; a few weeks later, the Federal Appeals Court, citing Judge Duff’s refusal to permit the questioning of Burge before the jury about the other cases of torture, granted us a new trial in the Wilson case.

Burge relocated to Florida, the City of Chicago quietly permitting him to resign after his firing became final. As a result, in 1997, he began to collect his police pension. That same year, after a second appeal, we obtained a $1.1 million dollar settlement in the Wilson case.

Justice reform beyond police torture

At about this time, the struggle against police torture joined with the movement against the death penalty that was spearheaded by a group of death row prisoners who had been tortured by Burge and his men. These men, who called themselves the Death Row Ten, joined with lawyers, activists, and other foes of the death penalty and police torture in a unified effort that resulted in a death penalty moratorium, the appointment of a Cook County Special Prosecutor to investigate Burge’s crimes and, in 2003, Illinois Governor George Ryan’s commutation of all Illinois death sentences and pardon of four of the Death Row Ten—Leroy Orange, Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson and Stanley Howard—on the basis of innocence.

The innocence pardons permitted the four men to file law suits, and my law partner Joey Mogul and I became lead lawyers for two of them. This gave us an avenue to further investigate Burge and his confederates’ crimes. I journeyed to Florida, Arizona, Tennessee and several Illinois prisons to track down and to record the statements of numerous Burge torture survivors.

Accompanied by an investigator and a court reporter, I also convinced several retired African American Area 2 detectives to give sworn statements. In these statements, the detectives, who were excluded from the actual torture sessions, told of seeing Burge’s electric shock box, hearing the torture victims’ screams and participating in discussions about the torture which was sometimes referred to as the “Vietnam treatment.” They also recounted how Burge’s threats of violence and their fear of retribution—the police code of silence at work—kept them from coming forward until they had retired.

In the early stages of these four lawsuits, a still-arrogant Burge, with the blessing of a new generation of taxpayer funded private lawyers, answered under oath a series of written questions by again denying that he participated in, witnessed, or otherwise had knowledge of any acts of torture. Shortly thereafter, in the summer of 2004, I travelled to Tampa with an investigator (who also served as a de facto bodyguard) to obtain an order from a Florida judge (whose nickname, I soon learned, was “Dirty Harry”) to compel Burge to appear at torture survivor Darrell Cannon’s parole revocation hearing.

Outside of the courtroom, Burge, referencing the $1.1 million dollar Andrew Wilson settlement, which we had earned many times over after 10 years of intense legal struggle, told a Chicago Tribune reporter who had journeyed from Chicago that “you would think Taylor would retire after getting a million from the city,” implying that the principal aim of the cases exposing decades’ worth of racist torture by the police department of the third largest city in America was for some human rights attorneys to get rich.

After the court session, we traveled south to Apollo Beach in search of Burge’s house and a picture of The Vigilante. Our efforts alerted the local St. Petersburg newspaper to run a feature article about the alleged police torturer living quietly in their midst under the cloud of “accusations [that] are like something out of a wartime prison: electric shock and cattle prods; near suffocation with a typewriter bag; mock executions with a pistol.”

“Not unlike a Nazi war criminal”

On September 1, 2004, Burge appeared in Chicago to answer questions in a consolidated deposition in the four lawsuits and Cannon’s parole revocation hearing. The videotaped deposition was held in a mock courtroom in his lawyers’ downtown offices, and they smuggled Burge in through a back entrance to avoid an angry demonstration, the media and three process servers who were attempting to subpoena Burge to testify before the Special Prosecutors’ grand jury.

I questioned Burge for nearly four hours. Having received some prudently revised legal advice, he repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment to each and every question. After the tense interrogation concluded, I was quoted in the Sun-Times as saying, “We feel that we have finally in some way brought to the stand and brought to public questioning a police criminal, a criminal we felt we had to hunt down, not unlike a Nazi war criminal.”

Four years later, on October 21, 2008, I received an early morning phone call from the Assistant U.S. Attorney who was heading up the investigation into allegations that Burge committed perjury and obstructed justice when he denied under oath five years earlier that he had committed torture. He told me that Federal Agents had a warrant for Burge’s arrest on those charges and he would be arrested later that morning in Florida. After 20 years of pursuit, our efforts had finally hit paydirt.

Burge’s arrest was the culmination of decades of work that had intensified since Burge’s 2004 deposition. In 2005, Joey Mogul had journeyed to Geneva to present our case to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT), and, in May 2006, the CAT issued findings that called for U.S. prosecutions of Burge and his men. In summer 2006, the Special Prosecutor had refused to bring state charges of perjury and conspiracy against Burge and had instead issued what many considered to be a cover-up report. In response, 250 organizations and individuals signed a shadow report that exposed the whitewash and renewed the call for criminal charges.

In summer 2007, hearings were held before the Chicago City Council and the Cook County Board of Commissioners at which torture survivors testified and the deposition videotape of Burge taking the Fifth Amendment was played. In the aftermath of the hearings, both bodies called for Federal prosecutions. Early in 2008, the City paid a $19.8 million settlement to the four torture survivors whom Governor Ryan had pardoned in 2003.

In 2009, while Burge awaited trial on the perjury and obstruction charges, I found myself again in Dirty Harry’s Tampa courtroom, face-to-face with Burge, seeking his return to testify in a post-conviction case where it was alleged that he supervised the torture of a murder suspect. Burge, after telling the judge that he was heavily medicated for a back problem and intended to take the Fifth Amendment if returned to Chicago to testify, stated, “Your Honor, Mr. Taylor has been suing me and members of the Chicago Police Department, for over thirty (30) years. My personal feeling is this is strictly for harassment.”

After the court session concluded with the judge opining that he would not require Burge to return to Chicago, I packed up my briefcase and opened one of the heavy wooden double doors to leave the empty courtroom. At that instant, Burge, coming back into the courtroom, opened the other door, our eyes met. He said nothing, but I felt a chill run up my spine before he pushed past me.

A torturer, finally, in jail

In May and June 2010, Burge went on trial in Federal Judge Joan Lefkow’s Chicago courtroom. The prosecution presented evidence that included testimony from Anthony Holmes, Melvin Jones and Andrew Wilson, from a reluctant white detective who testified, under a grant of immunity, about witnessing one of Burge’s torture sessions, and from two of the black detectives who had first told their stories to me.

Other prosecution witnesses included several to whom Burge had bragged about his racially motivated torture, including a woman lawyer who had previously revealed to me her troubling tale that Burge, while drinking at a local bar, had articulated an utter disdain for criminal defendants’ constitutional rights while making sexually explicit comments to her and admitting to abusing Andrew Wilson. Burge took the stand and broke his silence to deny each and every allegation of torture, and in another chance encounter after closing arguments concluded, he cursed me out.

Burge then retired to a bar across the street from the courthouse to await the jury’s verdict. According to a former prosecutor who had made Burge’s acquaintance while attending the six week trial, Burge called him over and asked him whether he thought that the jury would “believe that bunch of niggers,” referring to the African-American torture survivors who had testified against him.

The jury did believe the survivors and found Burge guilty. In January 2011, Burge was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison, and in March, he began to serve his sentence at the Federal Correctional Center in Butner, North Carolina, alongside other high profile white-collar criminals including Bernie Madoff.

Since Burge’s indictment, several of Burge’s victims had been exonerated, including Michael Tillman and Ronald Kitchen, for whom we filed civil suits. After obtaining a court order in Tillman’s case Joey Mogul and I travelled to North Carolina to again depose Burge in May of 2011.

While it was not unusual for us to enter prisons to talk to clients, this passage through the metal detectors with Burge’s lawyers was decidedly different. Burge, dressed in brown prison garb, complained of the food and medical care, then proceeded to assert his Fifth Amendment right to all questions that I posed. The deposition was videotaped, and his “testimony” was featured in videos that we made to recount Tillman and Kitchen’s horrific stories of torture and wrongful convictions.

Bearing witness to Burge’s imprisonment, albeit not for his systemic torture, and capturing it on videotape, was an important event, one which I have often cited when speaking about police torture in Chicago. Burge was behind bars, while victims like Tillman and Kitchen and the torture survivors who courageously testified against Burge were all free.

But this victory, while both symbolic and real, and grounded on decades of struggle by an anti-racist movement, did not end the battle to bring a modicum of final justice to the survivors of police torture and healing to the African American community. That struggle continues to this day, seeking reparations for the survivors and new hearings for the men still imprisoned as a result of confessions tortured from them.

Meanwhile, a broken but still unrepentant Jon G. Burge wears the well-deserved mantle of former Chicago Police commander and notorious torturer.