Why Chuy Garcia Needs to Condemn Police Torture Site

Why Chuy Garcia Needs to Condemn Rahm Emanuel’s Police Torture Site
By Flint Taylor
Originally appeared at In These Times

Guardian (U.K.) investigative reporter Spencer Ackerman has sparked a firestorm with a series of reports exposing a “secret” site, in the heart of Chicago’s predominantly African-American West Side, at which police have conducted off-the-books interrogations for more than 15 years.

Ackerman reports that black and brown suspects and witnesses, as well as white activists, have been taken by police to the abandoned Sears and Roebuck complex, known as Homan Square, and subjected to abuse. The victims describe, variously, being denied contact with lawyers or family for up to three days, being shackled hand and foot, and being subjected to starvation, sweltering heat, sensory deprivation and beatings. On at least one occasion, a detainee—John Hubbard, 44—died in an interview room. (After the Guardian article appeared, Cook County said the death was due to heroin intoxication.)

The initial Guardian exposé prompted calls for an investigation from two former high-level Justice Department officials, William Yeomans and Sam Bagenstos, and several progressive Chicago politicians (including one, Luis Gutierrez, who has been a conspicuous supporter of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel). The city attempted to give the growing scandal the back of the hand: Emanuel stated that the allegations were “not true. We follow the rules.” The police department issued a statement claiming that the site was not secret, that lawyers had access to their clients (the lawyers disagree) and that the charges of brutality were “offensive.” The local press, beaten on the story—by a UK paper no less—and having lost many of its award-winning investigative journalists years ago, turned to the Chicago Sun-Times’ veteran police reporter, Frank Main, who has long embedded with the CPD, to attack the Guardian reports. Main said that he had been to Homan Square 20 to 30 times to be shown drugs seized in raids. This, however, exhibits only the strange hidden-in-plain-sight nature of Homan Square: Press and lawyers were sometimes allowed in, but the interrogations and brutality were never reported. Nonetheless, a local NPR reporter, relying on Main’s assertion and doggedly focusing on the Guardian’s use of the term “black site” to draw a parallel with the CIA’s secret interrogation sites in the Middle East, attempted to dismiss the reports as “exaggerated.”

The Guardian countered with yet another story, which detailed four more cases of secret physical abuse in “kennel-like” cells at Homan Square. The young African-American men describe being grilled about gun and gangs for days. This time, the alleged practices included handcuffing both wrists in a way that, according to the victim, felt like being “crucified,” and stomping on another victim’s groin.

The textbook definition

So how should we view Homan Square? The U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which has been adopted, with reservations, by the United States, defines torture as follows:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

Given this, the emerging evidence of abuses at Homan Square once again places the question of systemic, racially and politically motivated torture squarely at the doorstep of the political powers that be in Chicago.

The similarities to the Burge torture era of the 1970s and 1980s are hard to miss. While the coercive tactics that have so far been documented at Homan Square are not as extreme as those practiced by then-Police Commander Jon Burge and his men (which included electric shock, simulating suffocation with a bag and mock-executions), they still intentionally inflict ”severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” as forbidden by the CAT. During the Burge era, lawyers and family members would call the police looking for an African-American client or loved one who had been taken into custody, only to be told that he or she was not there. When the person was finally located, Burge and his confederates had finished their torture and abuse, and in most cases, obtained a confession. Similar to Homan Square, numerous black men, including Darrell Cannon, Michael Tillman, and Alonzo Smith, were taken offsite to remote locations or to the basement of the police station to be interrogated under torture. And, as in Homan, at least one person died under highly suspicious circumstances on Burge’s watch.

Homan Square itself has a direct tie to other brutal chapters of Chicago police history: The site is geographically located in the notorious Fillmore Police District, near the former Area 4 detective headquarters. In the 1980s and 1990s, a team of well-known Area 4 detectives interrogated suspects with a viciousness that was second only to that of Burge and his men. Decades earlier, in the 1960s, Fillmore District Officer James “Gloves” Davis, and his partner, Nedrick Miller, patrolled the streets with a brutality so extreme that they are remembered by residents to this day. (Davis has another claim to infamy: When the Chicago police were enlisted by Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan and F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover’s Cointelpro program to execute the deadly West Side raid on the apartment of Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, Davis was one of the leaders of the raid, and bullets from his carbine were found in the bodies of both of the slain leaders.)

More to unearth?

The first case of Burge related torture came to light in 1982, but it was more than two decades before the larger scope of his unit’s systemic torture on the South and West Sides of Chicago—120 victims and still counting—was unearthed. So it is little wonder that the stories emerging from the sprawling brick edifice chill those who have experienced similar terrorizing brutality at the hands of the Chicago police. At a rally in front of Emanuel’s City Hall on March 2, torture victim Darrell Cannon linked Homan Square to Burge’s racist torture, paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr.: “Justice denied to one is justice denied to all.” Angry young activists of color at the rally suggested that the revelations to date are just the tip of an iceberg and described everyday occurrences of brutal interrogations in their communities. Since the Guardian stories hit, lawyers have come forward and complained that holding clients incommunicado is a citywide problem.

That it is, without doubt, and it is much too early to call the story “exaggerated” or to conclude that there has been transparency with regard to what goes on in those kennel-like cells. One veteran and well-respected African American activist, Prexy Nesbitt, who has lived in the shadow of that complex of buildings and had tasted the lawlessness of the Fillmore cops back in the day, has asserted, with a straight face, that Homan Square is “where the bodies are buried.” Unfortunately, in Chicago that statement can be taken literally, as well as figuratively.

On the Saturday after the first Homan Square article broke, a group of hardy protesters, led by Black Lives Matter, gathered before the fortified entrance of the main building. A spokesperson posed questions to the silent row of police guards: “How many people are you holding there?” “What are you doing to them?”

Those questions deserve answers, along with many others. Foremost among them: Given Chicago lawyers’ reports that officers feel free to practice these kinds of abuses throughout the city, what is the purpose of taking people off the books to interrogate them at Homan Square? And who, among the thousands that may be taken into custody by the Chicago police on a given week, are brought there?

The CPD isn’t telling. But an answer may be pieced together from what the police, the embedded reporter and the Guardian’s exposé have so far revealed. Here’s what we know: First, the CPD’s undercover operations and intelligence and anti-gang units are based at Homan Square. Second, selected political activists are brought there, along with youth of color. The former are questioned about “terrorist” and other political activities, and the latter are grilled about gang activities, drugs and guns. Third, detainees are secreted away from their lawyers and families for as long as possible, sometimes days. Fourth, in many instances they are not charged with a crime. Fifth, one of Homan Square’s main functions  is, by the CPD’s own admission, to “disrupt” gang activity, in a chilling echo of how the FBI’s Cointelpro program characterized an illegal set of tactics, which were also practiced by the CPD’s notorious Red Squad and Gang Intelligence Unit to trample on the rights of political activists and people of color in the 1960s and 1970s.

All of this indicates that Homan Square houses a centralized police intelligence gathering and disruption operation—secret, lawless, and out of control. Since the tactics at least sometimes include human rights violations forbidden by the United Nations Convention Against Torture, it seems depressingly appropriate to liken Homan Square to Burge’s House of Screams, to Guantanamo Bay, and yes, to the CIA’s secret black sites.

The politics at play

Two final overarching questions also must be posed: How, if at all, will the Obama Justice Department respond? And will these related human rights issues impact the mayoral runoff between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and progressive challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on April 7?

With regard to the Justice Department, local activists remember all too well that Barack Obama, when a state senator, steered a wide berth around the Burge torture issue. That, coupled with his staunch support for his former chief of staff in the mayoral primary, make the chances of a meaningful federal investigation, at least in the short term, next to zero.

As for the race, Garcia, for his part, took a position in the primary elections that, to many progressives, appeared to be to the right of Emanuel on the issue of policing. He called for 1,000 more cops on the street in his one and only TV advertisement, a position that hardly resonated with those people of color and progressives who suffer the slings and arrows of overly aggressive, racially motivated policing. He does support the ordinance for reparations for Burge torture survivors, but came to it late in the campaign, with an ill-informed written statement. He thereby missed a golden opportunity to seize upon an issue that would have further separated himself from Emanuel—who has refused to commit to the ordinance despite its support by a majority of the City’s aldermen—while appealing to the African-American community.

The Homan Square scandal offers Garcia yet another chance to show progressives and people of color that he is committed to reform a corrupt and brutal police department. With a broad-based attack on his opponent for failing to support torture reparations or to halt Homan Square, Garcia would be taking a page from his mentor, the late and great Mayor Harold Washington. Harold’s campaign caught fire in 1983 when he heeded the advice of one of his progressive advisors and seized on the issue of rampant police brutality to attack the incumbent, Jane Byrne. His base was galvanized, and the rest is history. Unfortunately, to date, Garcia has ignored that successful example and remained silent on Homan Square. Time is running short, but to paraphrase the late Congressman Ralph Metcalfe, it is never too late to be right.

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

Racially Profiled Youth File Lawsuit Against City of Chicago for False Arrest

Community Groups Stand in Support Demanding Equal Treatment and Protection of Constitutional Rights for All

CHICAGO – Today, Grassroots Collaborative held a press conference announcing the filing of a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Chicago Police Officers responsible for the false arrest of Felipe Hernandez and Kevin Tapia and the evisceration of their First Amendment rights.

On March 25th, 2014, Felipe Hernandez and Kevin Tapia were door knocking to inform residents about the March 31st deadline for the Affordable Care Act when they were stopped by Chicago Police Department officers, detained, searched multiple times, and questioned. Despite complying fully with the officers and providing their supervisor’s name and contact information, they were falsely arrested and frivolously charged with unlawful solicitation of business in violation of the Chicago Municipal Code.  After being booked and detained for several hours, they were released and the charges were later dropped.

“I was shocked to be arrested for engaging in legal activity and I feared that I would now have a criminal record that could prevent me from working, continuing my education and becoming a citizen of the U.S,” stated Kevin Tapia.  “I was frightened and feared the worst for no reason whatsoever.”

“Kevin and Felipe’s arrests were deplorable and wholly unjustifiable,” said Joey Mogul, a lawyer with the People’s Law Office representing Kevin and Felipe.  “They were racially profiled as young Latino men in a predominantly white neighborhood and arrested on a bogus charge.  They should have been applauded for their political engagement by the City, and instead they were punished while exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech.”  Mogul went on to say that “such pervasive discrimination not only threatens the political participation of young people of color, but also endangers the well-being of young people of color across the city of Chicago.”IMG_1968

The lawsuit was filed just a few weeks before the Chicago Municipal elections on February 24th, 2015.

“Door knocking campaigns play an important role in our civic engagement work and the work of many organizations across our city. It’s the right and duty of citizens of a democracy to talk to our neighbors and fellow residents. It’s our hope that many Chicago citizens, including young people of color, will be exercising that right in the next few weeks. We are very pleased that Kevin and Felipe have decided to file this lawsuit now. We will continue to stand with them in support of equal treatment and protection of all of our constitutional rights,” said Amisha Patel, Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative.

“I wanted to file this lawsuit because what the Chicago Police did was wrong and I don’t want what happened to me to happen to other youth of color, or anybody else trying to exercise their constitutional right to free speech. Our mere existence should not be deemed suspicious or criminal.  Nobody should fear getting arrested for talking with other residents about issues they care about,” said Felipe Hernandez to a crowd of community supporters.

Data demonstrates that people of color are disproportionately arrested and charged by the Chicago Police Department.  In 2012, Black and Latino youth aged 17 and under were the target of 96% of CPD arrests. And while Black youth bear the brunt of this racial profiling, and are 10 times more likely than their white peers to be arrested, Latino youth also suffer disproportionately, and are twice as likely as their white peers to be arrested.

As Timmy Rose of We Charge Genocide stated, “We believe Felipe and Kevin’s arrests are evidence of a larger pattern of policing and policies designed to further silence and criminalize black and brown bodies, particularly youth. As members of our community, we believe it is our duty to stand in solidarity with those being criminalized, to speak out against these cases and demand an end to the culture of impunity and abuse of power being relentlessly exercised by the Chicago Police Department.”

Kevin Tapia and Felipe Hernandez look forward to having their day in court.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found here. Today, Grassroots Collaborative held a press conference announcing the filing of a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Chicago Police Officers responsible for the false arrest of Felipe Hernandez and Kevin Tapia and the evisceration of their First Amendment rights. On March 25th, 2014, Felipe Hernandez and Kevin Tapia were door knocking to inform residents about the March 31st deadline for the Affordable Care Act when they were stopped by Chicago Police Department officers, detained, searched multiple times, and questioned. Despite complying fully with the officers and providing their supervisor’s name and contact information, they were falsely arrested and frivolously charged with unlawful solicitation of business in violation of the Chicago Municipal Code. After being booked and detained for several hours, they were released and the charges were later dropped. “I was shocked to be arrested for engaging in legal activity and I feared that I would now have a criminal record that could prevent me from working, continuing my education and becoming a citizen of the U.S,” stated Kevin Tapia. “I was frightened and feared the worst for no reason whatsoever.” “Kevin and Felipe’s arrests were deplorable and wholly unjustifiable,” said Joey Mogul, a lawyer with the People’s Law Office representing Kevin and Felipe. “They were racially profiled as young Latino men in a predominantly white neighborhood and arrested on a bogus charge. They should have been applauded for their political engagement by the City, and instead they were punished while exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech.” Mogul went on to say that “such pervasive discrimination not only threatens the political participation of young people of color, but also endangers the well-being of young people of color across the city of Chicago.” The lawsuit was filed just a few weeks before the Chicago Municipal elections on February 24th, 2015. “Door knocking campaigns play an important role in our civic engagement work and the work of many organizations across our city. It’s the right and duty of citizens of a democracy to talk to our neighbors and fellow residents. It’s our hope that many Chicago citizens, including young people of color, will be exercising that right in the next few weeks. We are very pleased that Kevin and Felipe have decided to file this lawsuit now. We will continue to stand with them in support of equal treatment and protection of all of our constitutional rights,” said Amisha Patel, Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative. “I wanted to file this lawsuit because what the Chicago Police did was wrong and I don’t want what happened to me to happen to other youth of color, or anybody else trying to exercise their constitutional right to free speech. Our mere existence should not be deemed suspicious or criminal. Nobody should fear getting arrested for talking with other residents about issues they care about,” said Felipe Hernandez to a crowd of community supporters. Data demonstrates that people of color are disproportionately arrested and charged by the Chicago Police Department. In 2012, Black and Latino youth aged 17 and under were the target of 96% of CPD arrests. And while Black youth bear the brunt of this racial profiling, and are 10 times more likely than their white peers to be arrested, Latino youth also suffer disproportionately, and are twice as likely as their white peers to be arrested. As Timmy Rose of We Charge Genocide stated, “We believe Felipe and Kevin’s arrests are evidence of a larger pattern of policing and policies designed to further silence and criminalize black and brown bodies, particularly youth. As members of our community, we believe it is our duty to stand in solidarity with those being criminalized, to speak out against these cases and demand an end to the culture of impunity and abuse of power being relentlessly exercised by the Chicago Police Department.” Kevin Tapia and Felipe Hernandez look forward to having their day in court. A copy of the lawsuit can be found here: grassrootscollaborative.org/sites/default/files/Case01061.pdf”>here.

IMG_1997

Our Opinion: How long must Steidl wait for a pardon from Illinois?

This was originally posted in the State Journal Registrar on Jan. 22, 2015.

Even as former Gov. Pat Quinn hastily acted on pardon and clemency requests during his final hours in office earlier this month, one long-awaited petition by a wrongfully convicted central Illinois man went unaddressed.
 
And so Randy Steidl, who ought to be considered an innocent man without evidence to the contrary, continues to wait for his name to be formally cleared by the state.
 
Steidl spent 17 years behind bars, including 12 on death row, for a crime he was wrongfully convicted of committing – the horrific 1986 double slaying of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhodes in the east-central Illinois town of Paris. Their bodies were found in a burning home, and they had been stabbed dozens of times.
 
The investigation was a sham from the beginning, built on circumstantial evidence and rife with corruption. Steidl and another man, Herb Whitlock, were arrested. The case moved swiftly through the Edgar County justice system; Steidl was convicted within 90 days of being arrested. He received the death penalty, Whitlock life in prison.
 
But questions about the investigation quickly surfaced and never went away. A witness description of a knife didn’t match forensic evidence, and another key witness repeatedly recanted statements made to detectives. A former state police investigator later said his supervisors intentionally impeded his ability to look deeper into the case.
 
A federal judge overturned Steidl’s conviction in 2003, saying he should be released or retried because of ineffective counsel and because he reasonably may have been acquitted had a jury heard all of the evidence.
 
The case was reinvestigated and DNA evidence tested, but Steidl could not be linked to the crime. The state police commander assigned to review the case concluded Steidl and Whitlock were not involved. He later revealed he was pressured by the state police to not reopen the investigation and said he was told it was “too politically sensitive.”
 
The Illinois attorney general’s office decided not to appeal the federal judge’s decision. The state appellate prosecutor’s office said it didn’t have enough time to prepare for a new trial, but stubbornly noted there was no statute of limitations on murder and insisted Steidl remained a suspect.
 
Steidl was released from prison in 2004. Whitlock was released in 2008.
 
No one else has been arrested in connection with the Rhodes case, and many observers doubt anyone ever will be. The investigation was too hopelessly riddled with mistakes, lies and cover-ups, to the detriment of actual justice for the Rhodes and their loved ones.
 
Steidl later sued various authorities involved in his wrongful conviction, including the Illinois State Police, the City of Paris, Edgar County, the state’s attorney who prosecuted him and other officials. He was awarded $6 million in civil settlements, including $2.5 million from the state police, which, notably, shelled out an additional $3.7 million on attorneys to fend off Steidl’s claims.
 
To this day, no one involved in the apparent frame-up has ever apologized or admitted to the wrongdoing that caused Steidl to spend 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. It’s a story that has played out repeatedly in Illinois, where 19 of 298 men and women sentenced to death have been exonerated. Illinois has the highest death-penalty exoneration rate in the country.
Steidl’s continued status as a suspect in the still-unresolved Rhodes slayings – if that remains the case – is nearly impossible to justify.
 
Two other governors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, did not pardon him, but revelations about his case were unfolding and his lawsuits against the government were pending during their terms, so the inaction can be justified.
 
By now, though, it’s clear that Steidl can’t be connected to the slayings. If he could, someone would have done it, and the government would not have shelled out millions to make him and the whole embarrassing chapter go away.
 
Quinn formally abolished the death penalty in Illinois and made reviewing pardon requests a priority for his administration. But why he failed to pardon Steidl, who is not guilty of murder in the eyes of the American judicial system, is unclear.
 
Perhaps Gov. Bruce Rauner will see fit to do the right thing.

 

Visit our wrongful conviction page on our website for more information on Randy Steidl’s case and other wrongful conviction cases our office has worked on.

Listen to Flint Taylor on the Radio Show “This is Hell”

This originally aired on This is Hell on January 17, 2015.

Flint Taylor: “Obama, for all his pious statements after Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and Michael Brown, has been behind funneling money to police departments for militarization. And that means the kind of weaponry and tactics that are used on the military battlefield.”

Attorney Flint Taylor delivers a history lesson in racism, brutality and law enforcement.

Flint wrote the piece Blood On Their Hands: The Racist History of Modern Police Unions for In These Times.

The Deadline for Applications for the Summer Internship Program has been Extended

People’s Law Office is accepting applications for our 2015 summer internship and educational program, which focuses on learning about civil rights litigation rooted in social justice and radical legal work.

The program is open to law students. To apply send resume, cover letter and writing sample to peopleslaw [at] aol.com.  Applications will be accepted until February 6, 2014.  A stipend is available.

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.

Blood On Their Hands: The Racist History of Modern Police Unions

This article was originally published in In These Times on January 14, 2015. 

By: Flint Taylor

Outraged by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s statements concerning the killing of Eric Garner, Patrick Lynch, the longtime leader of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the NYPD’s officers union, recently made the outrageous assertion that the Mayor had “blood on his hands” for the murder of the two NYPD officers.

In Milwaukee this past fall, the Police Association called for, and obtained, a vote of no confidence in MPD Chief Ed Flynn after he fired the officer who shot and killed Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed African American; subsequently, the union’s leader, Mike Crivello, praised the District Attorney when he announced that he would not bring charges against the officer.

In Chicago, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), a longtime supporter of racist police torturer Jon Burge, is now seeking to circumvent court orders that preserve and make public the police misconduct files of repeater cops such as Burge, by seeking to enforce a police contract provision that calls for the destruction of the files after seven years.  And in a show of solidarity with the killer of Michael Brown, Chicago’s FOP is soliciting contributions to the Darren Wilson defense fund on its website.

Such reactionary actions by police unions are not new, but are a fundamental component of their history, particularly since they came to prominence in the wake of the civil rights movement. These organizations have played a powerful role in defending the police, no matter how outrageous and racist their actions, and in resisting all manner of police reforms.

New York

In June 1966, New York City Mayor John Lindsay, responding to widespread complaints of police brutality, called for a civilian review board. Five thousand off duty NYPD cops rallied at City Hall in opposition, and the head of the PBA, leading the campaign against civilian review, intoned that “I am sick and tired of giving in to minority groups, with their whims and their gripes and shouting. Any review board with civilians on it is detrimental to the operations of the police department.” Invoking the specter of increased crime, the PBA mounted a massive public relations campaign against the measure, and it was defeated in a referendum that year.

In 1975, in response to proposed budget cuts that included police layoffs, the PBA ordered a rampage through the city’s black and Puerto Rican communities, with thousands of off duty cops waving their guns, banging on trash cans, and blowing whistles for several nights until Mayor Abe Beame obtained a restraining order.

Ten years later, after Mayor Ed Koch revived the issue of civilian review in the wake of a white cop killing Eleanor Bumpurs, an elderly and mentally ill black woman, the PBA again condemned the idea, staged a work slowdown in response to the attempted prosecution of the officer, Stephen Sullivan, and pressured Koch into reinstating Sullivan even though he had been criminally charged with the killing.

In 1992, when David Dinkins, the first (and only) African-American Mayor of New York City sought to implement a civilian review agency to investigate allegations of police misconduct, the PBA organized another City Hall rally in protest. This time,the crowd of officers numbered 10,000, with PBA members hurtling barricades, jumping on cars, blocking the Brooklyn Bridge and kicking a reporter. Some of the rally’s participants carried signs showing Dinkins with a bushy Afro haircut and swollen lips, with racist slogans, including ones that ridiculed him as a “washroom attendant.”

In the mid-1990s, the independent Mollen Commission, appointed by Mayor Dinkins to investigate police corruption,documented widespread police perjury, brutality, drug dealing and theft in the NYPD, and found that “by advising its members against cooperating with law-enforcement authorities, the P.B.A. often acts as a shelter for and protector of the corrupt cop.” These findings were seconded by senior NYPD officials and prosecutors who were quoted by the New York Times as saying that they would continue to “have trouble rooting out substantial numbers of corrupt officers as long as the P.B.A. resists them.”

The Times further quoted these officials as complaining that the PBA, “fortified with millions of dollars in annual dues collections . . . is one of the most powerful unions in the city. As an active lobbyist in Albany and as a contributor to political campaigns, the P.B.A. has enormous influence over the department and is typically brought in for consultations before important management decisions are made.”

In the Abner Louima case, the PBA’s role extended beyond reactionary advocacy and agitation to active participation in a conspiracy to cover-up the brutal crimes of its members. In 1997, an NYPD officer sexually assaulted Louima in a Precinct Station bathroom by violently shoving a broken broomstick into his rectum. His attacker and three of his police accomplices were charged with criminal civil rights offenses.

Evidence in the criminal proceedings revealed that a PBA official had chaired an early meeting with the implicated officers, one of whom was a PBA delegate, at which they fabricated a false story designed to exonerate one of the conspirators. Even after the officers were convicted, the PBA continued to defend the officers, both publicly and with financial support, and to advocate for them with their fabricated version of events—with none other than Patrick Lynch claiming that “people with a political agenda have fanned the flames of this incident,” leading to an “innocent man  . . . being punished beyond belief.”

More recently, Lynch and the PBA, together with the NYPD sergeants and captains associations, after condemning Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin’s order that sharply limited the NYPD’s discriminatory stop and frisk policies, unsuccessfully sought to appeal her order after Mayor de Blasio made good on his campaign promise not to appeal.

And this past year, confronted with another indefensible case of NYPD violence, PBA President Lynch again went on the offensive. In August, after the medical examiner determined that Eric Garner’s death at the hands of officer Daniel Pantaleo was a homicide by means of a chokehold, Lynch declared that the examiner was “mistaken” in finding that the death was a homicide, and that he had “never seen a document that was more political than that press release by the [medical examiner].”

In a classic case of doubletalk, he further asserted that it was “not a chokehold. It was bringing a person to the ground the way we’re trained to do to place him under arrest.” He chastised Mayor de Blasio for not “support[ing] New York City police officers unequivocally.”

In December, Lynch praised the Staten Island Grand Jury’s decision not to charge Panteleo, while accusing Garner of resisting arrest, brushing off two police misconduct lawsuits—one for sexual assault during a search— brought against Panteleo and idolizing him as “literally an Eagle Scout,” a “model” cop, and “mature, mature” officer.

And once again, the PBA unleashed a work slowdown in further protest of Mayor de Blasio that lasted several weeks.

Chicago

In Chicago, the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents CPD patrol officers, has a similarly notorious history.

Handmaiden to the rioting cops who indiscriminately and brutally beat demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic Convention,the FOP held a reunion of their 1968 troops in 2009 at the FOP Lodge. They proudly displayed pictures of some of the wanton police brutality on their website and, in an attempt to rewrite history (and the Kerner Commission’s findings of a “police riot”), trumpeted that “the time has come that the Chicago Police be honored and recognized for their contributions to maintaining law and order—and for taking a stand against Anarchy.  … The Democratic National Convention was about to start and the only thing that stood between Marxist street thugs and public order was a thin blue line of dedicated, tough Chicago police officers.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, the FOP, demonstrating its reactionary and racist essence within its own ranks, aligned itself against the forces that were fighting to bring affirmative action to the CPD. The Afro American Patrolman’s League led the battle and was confronted in their legal struggle at every turn by disgruntled white officers and the FOP.

In 1990, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution that declared December 4 “Fred Hampton Day.” On December 4, 1969, Hampton, a dynamic young Black Panther Party leader, was slain in his bed by Chicago police in what, by 1990, had been documented and widely accepted in the African-American community as a politically motivated murder. Surprisingly, Mayor Richard M. Daley did not oppose the resolution. But the FOP most certainly did.

FOP President John Dineen launched a lobbying campaign to repeal the resolution, publicly belittled the BPP’s service programs and slandered Hampton, who was considered to be a martyr by many African Americans and activists, as a person who “dedicated his life to killing the pigs.” History repeated itself in 2006 when, after the City Council unanimously voted to rename the block where Hampton was murdered “Chairman Fred Hampton Way,” FOP President Mark Donahue organized the families of slain CPD officers to lobby for its rescission, while publicly voicing his cop membership’s “outrage” and “disbelief” at the decision.

In the early 1990s, the FOP began its campaign— which it continues to pursue to this day—of defending Jon Burge and his fellow police torturers. In November 1991, the emerging evidence of a pattern of police torture by Burge and his cadre of all-too-willing enforcers compelled the City of Chicago to initiate administrative proceedings before the Chicago Police Board in order to fire Burge and two of his co-conspirators for the brutal electric shock torture of Andrew Wilson. Since the city was no longer financing the torturers’ defense, as it had in the civil rights damages case brought by Wilson, the FOP stepped up and gladly assumed responsibility.

The FOP and its spin-off organization, the Burge-O’Hara-Yucaitis Family Fund Committee (BOY), then set out on acampaign that sought not only to raise money for the defense, but also to viciously attack Burge’s victims and the lawyers from the People’s Law Office, (including myself) who had brought much of the damning evidence to light. They falsely accused us of fabricating the evidence of systemic torture and of making millions from exposing the scandal. They also organized a raucous fundraiser at a local union hall where Burge was lionized by thousands of cops and prosecutors.

After a six-week evidentiary hearing, the Police Board fired Burge and suspended one of the other charged officers. Dineen called the decision a “travesty of justice,” and only weeks later the FOP announced that it intended to enter a float honoring Burge and his compatriots in the annual South Side Irish Parade—a parade in which Chicago Mayors and numerous other politicians regularly marched.  The public outrage and cries of racism that followed the FOP’s announcement were swift and strong, and the FOP was forced to withdraw the float.

A few years later a federal judge, quoting Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” ordered that a number of police files that documented the systemic nature of the torture “with all its pus flowing ugliness” be released “to the natural medicines of air and light.” The FOP intervened in the suit, seeking to overturn the order, and continued to pursue its battle to suppress the files with an unsuccessful appeal.

In 2008, the FOP again became actively involved in defending Burge after he was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under oath about whether he tortured African-American suspects. The FOP Board, without putting it to a vote of its membership, pushed through a resolution to pay for Burge’s lawyers in the criminal case.

Defending its decision, FOP President Mark Donahue asserted that Burge, despite the more than 100 documented cases of torture that had been amassed against him over the years, had been unfairly tarnished by allegations from criminals, and that politicians and lawyers for Burge’s victims had fueled a media hysteria which “caused Jon Burge to be the ‘poster child’ of alleged police torture in this city for an entire generation.” Invoking what can be described as the FOP’s unrepentant motto, Donahue vowed that it “will stand with the police officer every time.” A group of African-American officers unsuccessfully challenged the decision in Court, stating, “We do not support torture. We do not condone torture. We do not embrace torture. We will never support that type of behavior on the department.”

In 2011, Burge, despite his high-priced FOP-financed defense, was convicted of three felonies and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in federal prison. Nonetheless, the Police Pension Board, which was comprised of four former or present CPD officers and four civilians, voted 4-4 on the question of whether Burge should be stripped of his pension, which he had been receiving since 1997. By law, the tie was resolved in pensioner Burge’s favor.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit, seeking to reverse the decision, and the FOP defended the ruling, with an FOP-financed private lawyer arguing on behalf of Burge. The case was appealed all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which, in a 4-3 decision this past summer, ruled in favor of Burge and the Pension Board.

This appalling history is not limited to New York, Chicago or Milwaukee by any means. Other notable examples include Detroit in the mid-1970s, where the Detroit Police Officers Association challenged police reforms and affirmative action initiatives which sought to stem rampant police brutality against African Americans with a lawsuit; after it lost its case, it orchestrated a police riot.

In Los Angeles in the early 1990s, African-American Mayor Tom Bradley condemned the state court jury verdict which absolved LAPD officers of criminal charges for brutally beating Rodney King, by stating that the verdict “will never blind us to what we saw on that videotape,” and further stated that “the men who beat Rodney King do not deserve to wear the uniform of the LAPD.” In response, the L.A. Police Protective League reacted with a vengeance that, according to Police Chief Richard Riordan, lasted for years.

And more recently, in Seattle, the Police Officers’ Guild mounted a verbal attack on then-Mayor Michael McGinn after he stated, in response to the shooting of a Native American word-carver, that the Seattle police force had no place for officers who did not share his commitment to racial justice.

Whether unions which represent police officers, correctional guards and other law enforcement officers are the same kind of workers’ organizations as other unions, which can potentially be used to further the interests of the working class as a whole, has been vigorously contested by many progressives and leftists over the years. But the disturbing history of these powerful organizations makes it very clear that they mirror and reinforce the most racist, brutal and reactionary elements within the departments they claim to represent and actively encourage the code of silence within those departments. They are far from democratic, with officers of color and women having little or no influence.

In truth, police unions further the-all-too-accurate conception that the police are an occupying force in poor communities of color, and are antithetical in principle and action to the progressive principles of the labor movement.

More Articles by Flint Taylor from In These Times

Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Circuit Court Finding of Unconstitutionality in the Occupy Chicago Cases

Court rules Chicago’s park curfew ordinance is constitutional

As protests against police misconduct and racial injustice sweep the nation, a panel of the Illinois Appellate Court Tuesday, December 23, 2014 upheld one of the largest mass arrests in the city’s history.

Occupy Chicago protesters, represented by pro bono attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild of Chicago (NLG), People’s Law Office (PLO), and Durkin & Roberts had won an earlier lower court decision dismissing their 2011 arrests as an unconstitutional violation of their First Amendment rights.  The case, City of Chicago v. Tieg Alexander, et al., 1-12-2858, dates back to October of 2011, when approximately 300 activists associated with Occupy Chicago were arrested on two consecutive Saturdays in Grant Park.

Ninety-two of the arrestees challenged their arrests and were victorious in the Circuit Court, which struck down the ordinance used to arrest them.  Today a panel of the Illinois Appellate Court overturned that decision, in a rollback of First Amendment rights.

“The policing in these cases illustrates Rahm Emanuel’s shameful corporate agenda, designed to elevate corporate interests and erode the rights of everyday people,” said Sarah Gelsomino, attorney with the People’s Law Office and National Lawyers Guild.  “It’s outrageous that the City continues to waste our money on prosecuting activists for a petty curfew violation.”

NLG attorney Molly Armour stated:  “Today’s decision strikes a blow to protest movements at the very moment we see how essential they are to the national dialogue and to affecting fundamental social justice.  As lower court recognized — public spaces should be reserved for the People and the moments in our history where dissent is essential.”

“The National Lawyers Guild will continue to demand protections for those who challenge injustice,” Gelsomino says.  “The fight to protect freedoms of speech and assembly is vital, especially now as protests against racist and oppressive policing sweep the country.”

The NLG continues to support people’s movements in the streets with its Legal Observer™ Program and in the courts defending those arrested.  While disappointed in the ruling, the NLG remains steadfast in its commitment to the fights for social, economic, and racial justice.

The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.

Appellate Court Opinion

Illinois Appellate Decision – December 23, 2014

Documents from Occupy Chicago Appeal
City of Chicago’s Appeal Brief – May 8, 2013
Occupy Chicago Response Brief – September 30, 2013
City of Chicago’s Reply Brief – December 12, 2013

Documents from Trial Level Court
Decision Ruling in Favor of Occupy Chicago – September 27, 2012
Occupy Chicago Reply to City – February 10, 2012
Original Occupy Chicago Motion to Dismiss – November 4, 2011

Quinn needs to speed actions on clemency petitions: Mitchell

This article was originally published on 12/19/2014 by the Chicago Sun-Times 

A man who served 17 years for a crime he didn’t commit shouldn’t have to plead for a pardon.

But that’s Gordon “Randy” Steidl’s plight.

He was released from an Illinois prison on May 28, 2004 after U.S. District Court Judge ruled Steidl probably would have been acquitted on charges he stabbed to death two people in 1986, if the jury had heard all the evidence.

When Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan chose not to pursue an appeal in Steidl’s case, he became the 18th person to be exonerated since 1977 after having been sentenced to death.

Once out of prison, Steidl faced the same discrimination that other ex-cons faced.

His job prospects were nil to none when a prospective employer learned he had been convicted of a double murder.

In 2011 and 2013, respectively, he successfully sued the Illinois State Police, the Paris Illinois Police Department, and Edgar County, and settled with those entities for a combined $6 million.

But money can’t buy back 17 years of a man’s life, nor can it buy a good reputation.

Despite his freedom, Steidl is stuck in a prison without bars.

Unlike most of the men in Illinois who were facing a death penalty, Steidl was white, and from the small town of Paris, Ill.

It was sheer genius on the part of advocates pushing for a moratorium on the death penalty, to make Steidl the face of the anti-death penalty movement in Illinois.

“His case, conviction and ultimate exoneration was a key catalyst in our efforts to abolish the death penalty in Illinois,” said Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen A. Yarbrough in a letter dated Dec. 17 addressed to Gov. Pat Quinn.

“It’s time that his sacrifice — 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit — is honored,” she said.

Although there was enough evidence to convince a U.S. District judge that Steidl was the victim of a tainted prosecution — evidence that included unreliable witnesses and questionable forensics, apparently Quinn is having a difficult time seeing Steidl’s innocence.

“Each case varies. Some require more time, more review than others,” said Katie Hickey, a spokesman for the governor.

“Some of them are still under consideration and this is one of those cases that has not been acted upon. Once the governor has reached a decision, he will continue… he will continue to work on petitions as expeditiously as possible, including this one,” Hickey said.

She pointed out that when Quinn took office six years ago, he faced a backlog of 2,838 clemency petitions.

“After he got in office, the numbers started to go up and the governor has acted on 3,358 petitions. He has made it a real priority,” Hickey said.

But Steidl’s wrongful conviction isn’t the only shocking clemency petition languishing on the governor’s desk.

Anthony Dansberry has been incarcerated since 1991 and his clemency petition has been on Quinn’s desk for four years.

Dansberry’s lawyers claim he has spent 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit because he was tricked into signing a confession.

He is accused of mugging a 77-year-old suburban woman who later died.

Dansberry, who has a low IQ and cannot read, said he thought he was signing release papers when he was actually signing a prepared confession.

Without clemency, Dansberry will be in prison until he is eligible for parole in 2029.

Quinn has only a month left in office and there is an estimated 3,000 clemency petitions on his desk. It is unlikely that everyone crying out for mercy will be heard.

But there’s no excuse for ignoring the blatant injustice that Steidl and Dansberry’s incarceration represents.

It would be a waste of power to leave these egregious cases as unfinished business.