Lawsuit Filed Against Former MPD Officer Michael Vagnini

Simultaneous to the outrageous decision orchestrated by the prosecutor in Ferguson, Missouri, Attorneys Flint Taylor and Ben Elson from the People’s Law Office and Attorney Robin Shellow of The Shellow Group have filed a wide-ranging body cavity search lawsuit against convicted felon and former Milwaukee Police officer Michael Vagnini, as well as his crew of outlaw District 5 officers. For the first time, this publicly documents the policies and practices of the MPD and its police chiefs, particularly Chief Ed Flynn, that have resulted in the more than 75 documented illegal body cavity and strip searches of African-Americans from 2007 to 2012. The suit, which was brought on behalf of four innocent African-American young men, alleges 10 separate incidents of body cavity searches committed by Michael Vagnini and his unit, under the direct supervision of disgraced former MPD sergeant Jason Mucha, from 2008 through 2011, and includes the following newly discovered evidence:          

  • While working for the West Allis police Department, Vagnini verbally abused and sexually assaulted a female West Allis Police Officer          
  • the MPD had access to the investigation of this incident, including several eyewitness accounts, yet hired him anyway;
  • as early as September of   2007 high MPD officials knew of Vagnini’s illegal body cavity searches and did nothing about it
  • While an MPD officer, Vagnini used sexually derogatory language towards a black female county sheriff’s officer
  • Vagnini’s off duty conduct with fellow officers, including drunken parties, led Alderman Dudzik to forward a citizen’s anonymous complaint to Assistant Chief Strunk, warning of another Frank Jude case
  • Vagnini was identified by the MPD as one of the top six repeater cops with regard to execssive force

            In the harsh light of the systemic failure to do justice in Ferguson, it is long past due for the City and Chief Flynn to recognize and remedy the systemic failures within the MPD, as so extensively detailed in the complaint filed today, that resulted in the pattern and practice of illegal body cavity and strip searches, as well as the brutal beating of Frank Jude, the senseless death of Derek Williams, and the brutal slaying the unarmed Dontre Hamilton.

Darren Wilson Wasn’t the First: A Short History of Killer Cops Let Off The Hook

HowardThe U.S. has a long history of allowing police to walk free after vicious racist violence

By Flint Taylor of People’s Law Office, originally appeared in In These Times

The pre-ordained failure of a biased local prosecutor to obtain an indictment against Darren Wilson should not surprise us. But the movement for justice for Michael Brown has brought widespread attention to the nationwide problem of systemic and racist police violence and highlighted the movement that has come together to battle against it.

The Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of African-American teenager Michael Brown is heartless but unsurprising. But it is important to place the case in context with the history of police violence investigations and prosecutions in high profile cases—and the systemic and racist police brutality that continues to plague the nation. In doing so, there are lessons for the movement for justice in the Michael Brown case, as well as for those who are engaged in the broader struggle against law enforcement violence.

What follows, then, is a brief history of similar high profile cases where public outrage compelled the justice system to confront acts of racially motivated police violence—with, to say the least, less than satisfactory results.

Chicago

Over the past 45 years, Chicago has been a prime example of official indifference and cover-up when it comes to prosecuting the police for wanton brutality and torture.

On December 4, 1969, Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were slain in a police raid that implicated the Cook County State’s Attorney and the FBI’s Cointelpro program. A public outcry led to a Federal Civil Rights investigation. Despite finding that the raiding police fired more than 90 shots to one by the Panthers, the Grand Jury in 1970 did not indict, but rather issued a report that equally blamed the police perpetrators and the Panther victims.

Outrage at this decision led to the appointment of a Special Prosecutor who, in the face of extreme official resistance, obtained an indictment against the police and the State’s Attorneys who planned and executed the raid—not for murder and attempted murder, but rather for obstruction of justice.

The case came to trial in front of a politically connected judge who dismissed the case without even requiring that the charged officials put on a defense. Again, the outrage, particularly in the African-American community was so extreme that the chief prosecutor, Edward V. Hanrahan, was voted out of office a week after the verdict was rendered in 1972.

The Jon Burge police torture scandal provides another stark example. Evidence that had been unearthed over the years demonstrated that a crew of predominately white Chicago police detectives, led by Jon Burge, tortured at least 120 African-American men from 1972 to 1991.

Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley was tendered powerful evidence of this torture as early as 1982, but did not investigate or prosecute Burge and his men. Daley’s office continued to use confessions tortured from the victims to send scores of them to prison—10 of whom went to death row, though they were later saved by a death penalty moratorium in 2000 and by a grant of clemency in 2003 by then-Governor George Ryan—during the next seven years.

In 1989, the local U.S. Attorneys’ office declined to prosecute, as did the Department of Justice in 1996 and Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine for the five years directly thereafter. In 2001, due to continuing public pressure, a politically connected Special Prosecutor was appointed to investigate the torture. But after a four year, $7 million investigation, he too refused to indict, instead issuing what is widely considered to be a whitewash report that absolved Daley, Devine, and numerous high Chicago police officials.

Finally, in 2008 the U.S. Attorney indicted Burge for perjury and obstruction of justice, and he was convicted in 2010, and sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. However, the U.S. Attorney has subsequently declined to prosecute Burge’s confederates for similar offenses.

New Orleans

Chicago is by no means an isolated example of how difficult it is to obtain justice for wanton police violence through the judicial system. In New Orleans, a crew of white detectives responded to the killing of a white police officer in 1980 by terrorizing the black community of Algiers, killing four innocent people and torturing numerous others by “booking and bagging” them: beating suspects with telephone books and suffocating them with bags over their heads.

Seven officers were indicted by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations arising from the torture of one of the victims and three were convicted.  No officers were charged for the four killings or for the other acts of torture.

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, an NOPD officer fatally shot an unarmed black man named Henry Glover, then several of his fellow officers burned his body to cover-up their crime. NOPD officers also shot and killed two unarmed black men on the Danziger Bridge.

After state authorities botched their investigation, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department indicted the officers involved in the two cases and obtained convictions of some of the main police actors. However, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the verdict in the Glover case, and the trial judge, citing government misconduct, took the extraordinary step of granting the convicted officers a new trial in the Danziger case.

New York

In 1997, an NYPD officer sexually assaulted a Haitian-American man named Abner Louima in a precinct station bathroom by shoving a broken broomstick up his rectum. Louima’s attacker was subsequently charged with federal civil rights violations, while three of his police accomplices were charged with covering up the crimes.

After Louima’s attacker pleaded guilty, his accomplices were convicted, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned their convictions on the grounds that the lawyers who represented the officers had a conflict of interest. After they were convicted a second time, the Appeals Court again overturned their convictions—this time on the basis that there was insufficient evidence of intent.

In 1999, four officers from the NYPD’s Street Crimes Unit fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who was reaching for his wallet, hitting him 19 times. The officers were indicted for second degree murder and the case was moved to upstate New York, where a jury acquitted the officers.

In July of this year, NYPD officers arrested an African-American man named Eric Garner, allegedly for selling untaxed cigarettes. They put a prohibited chokehold on him, forced him to the ground face first with his hands behind his back, and shoved his face into the pavement, where he died a few minutes later of a heart attack. The deadly assault, which was captured on videotape, is now under investigation by a Special Grand Jury empaneled by the District Attorney’s Office.

Los Angeles

Among the most notorious cases was the brutal 1991 beating of Rodney King by five LAPD officers. A videotape captured most of the brutality and also showed several other officers standing by and doing nothing to stop the pummeling of a defenseless black man.

Four officers were charged at the state level with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. The trial was moved to a predominantly white suburban county, and three of the officers were acquitted of all charges, while the fourth was acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon and other lesser charges. But the jury failed to reach a verdict on his use of excessive force.

After an angry uprising in the African-American community of Los Angeles that left 53 dead and around 2,000 injured, the U.S. Justice Department indicted the four officers, and a federal jury convicted two of them, while acquitting the other two.

This past August, LAPD officers fatally shot an unarmed mentally ill African-American man named Ezell Ford, who witnesses said was shot in the back while lying on the ground. Despite massive protests, there has been no grand jury investigation to date, the autopsy report is yet to be released, and the LAPD has not completed its investigation.

Oakland

In Oakland, California in the late 1990s, a unit of police officers dubbed the “Rough Riders” systematically beat, framed and planted narcotics on African Americans whom they claimed were dealing drugs. Four of the “Riders” were indicted by the District Attorney’s Office, and the trial was moved to a suburban county. The ringleader fled the country, and was tried in absentia.

After a year-long trial before a bitterly divided jury on which there were no blacks, the officers were acquitted of eight charges, and the jury was hung on the remaining 27 counts. At the urging of then-Mayor Jerry Brown, the officers were not re-tried.

Also in Oakland, in the early morning hours of New Years Day, 2009, a BART officer shot and killed a young black man named Oscar Grant, who was lying face down, unarmed,  in a busy transit station. The shooting was videotaped, and led to militant protests in Oakland.

Another jury with no black members rejected the charge of murder and instead found the officer guilty of involuntary manslaughter. As a result, Oscar Grant’s killer spent less than a year behind bars. The Department of Justice subsequently opened a civil rights investigation, but no charges were brought.

Milwaukee

From 2007-2012 in Milwaukee, a unit of white police officers, spurred on by the Department’s CompStat program of aggressive policing, stopped and illegally body cavity searched more than 70 African-American men whom they claimed to be investigating for drug dealing. In conducting these searches, most commonly performed on the street, the searching officer reached inside the men’s underwear, and probed their anuses and genitals.

After this highly illegal practice came to light, the unit’s ringleader, Michael Vagnini, was indicted by the Milwaukee County District Attorney on numerous counts of sexual assault, illegal searches, and official misconduct, while three of the other unit officers were also charged for participating in two of the searches. The unit’s sergeant and several other members of the unit, all of whom were present for many of the searches, were not charged.

The charged officers were permitted to plead guilty to the lesser included offenses of official misconduct and illegal strip searches, with Vagnini receiving a 36-month sentence while the other three received sentences that totaled, collectively, less than a month in jail. By pleading guilty, they also received promises that they would not be charged with federal civil rights violations.

Pattern and Practice Investigations

These high profile cases represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cases where racist police violence has not been subjected to equal justice under the law.

Recently, the Justice Department declined to prosecute Little Rock, Arkansas, officers who shot and killed Eugene Ellison, an elderly African American man who was walking out of his home with a cane in his hand, while there have been documented reports of unarmed black men recently being shot down by the police in Chicago; Houston; San Antonio; Beaver Creek, Ohio; and Sarasota, Florida.

In 1994, the United States Congress, recognizing that police misconduct and violence was systemic in many parts of the country, passed 42 U.S. Code Section 14141, which empowered the Justice Department to file suit against police departments alleging patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct, and to obtain wide ranging court orders, consent decrees, and independent monitors in order to implement reforms to those practices.

Although understaffed, the Pattern and Practice Unit of the Justice Department has attacked systemic and discriminatory deficiencies in police hiring, supervision, and monitoring in numerous police departments over the past 20 years.  A particularly egregious act or series of acts of police violence often prompts the Unit to initiate an investigation, and its lawyers have obtained consent decrees or court orders in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Steubenville, Ohio, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Oakland, and Miami.

Last month, lawyers handling the Little Rock cases requested that the DOJ do a pattern and investigation of the LRPD, and the Unit is reportedly now investigating the practices of the Ferguson Police Department. While these investigations are not a panacea, they offer a mechanism for exposing and reforming blatantly unconstitutional police practices, and have also demonstrated how pervasive the problem systemic police violence continues to be.

In light of this history, the pre-ordained failure of a biased local prosecutor to obtain an indictment against Darren Wilson should not surprise us. But the movement for justice for Michael Brown has brought widespread attention to the nationwide problem of systemic and racist police violence and highlighted the movement that has come together to battle against it.

Just two weeks ago, the Brown case, along with the Burge torture cases, was presented to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva. The movement should now turn its attention to the Department of Justice, demanding a federal civil rights indictment against Wilson, a full scale pattern and practice investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, and, more broadly, an end to systemic and racist police violence.

As the history of the battle against racist police violence so pointedly teaches, the public outcry and agitation must continue not only in Ferguson but across the nation. Because as Frederick Douglas rightly stated many years ago, power concedes nothing without a demand.

Accepting Applications for Summer Internship

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 December 30, 2014.  A stipend is available.

Welcome Our New Associate, Shubra Ohri

People’s Law Office is pleased to welcome our new associate, Shubra Ohri.  Shubra is a creative and dedicated advocate who brings her passion for human rights both internationally and domestically to her work at People’s Law Office.  Shubra is currently using her extensive international human rights experience to present the Jon Burge torture cases to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva.  In Geneva, she is urging the Committee to call on the United States to comply with the provisions of the Convention Against Torture by providing redress to Burge torture survivors and holding those officers complicit in the systematic torture responsible for their violations of international human rights law. 

Update on Rasmea Odeh Trial

UPDATE ON RASMEA ODEH TRIAL
Friday, November 7 (Day 4 of Trial)

The trial against Palestinian-American Rasmea Odeh began earlier this week in Detroit.  Rasmea is being represented by Michael Deutsch of People’s Law Office, with co-counsel Jim Fennerty, another Chicago-based civil rights attorney, along with William Goodman and Dennis Cunningham.

Rasmea is on trial in Federal Court for failing to disclose a prior conviction in her immigration application to the United States.  The prior conviction was from Israel and related to a 1969 bombing at a supermarket in Jerusalem.  She had been arrested, interrogated and tortured by the Israeli military.  As a result of the torture, she confessed to involvement with the bombing.

Prior to trial, the judge made rulings limiting the defense.  One of the most significant rulings was prevented Rasmea or her attorneys from raising the torture she suffered or the psychological impact it had on her, which could explain her answers on the immigration form.  This was despite the judge finding her torture claims “credible.”

Trial began on Tuesday and the first day was spent selecting a jury.  Opening statements took place on Wednesday.  Arguing for the government, Assistant US Attorney Mark Jebson argued simply that Rasmea should be convicted for immigration fraud for failing to disclose her 1970 conviction.

During his opening argument, Michael Deutsch detailed Rasmea’s life.  He described how she lost the family home to Israeli settlers at a young age and explained how she was arrested and interrogated for weeks by the Israeli military.  Due to the judge’s ruling, he was unable to go into detail about the torture she suffered.  Deutsch also told the jury about Rasmea’s life here in the United States and how much respect she has in the community.  Deutsch closed by asking the jurors to remain fair and use their sense of justice to find Rasmea Not Guilty.

The prosecution presented their case Wednesday afternoon, calling agents from Department of Homeland Security and US Citizenship and Immigration Service.  The government’s case continued into Thursday morning.

On Thursday, the defense began presenting their case, calling UIC professor Nadine Naber to describe Rasmea and her work with Muslim and Arab women immigrants in the Chicago area.  Following Naber’s testimony, Rasmea took the stand.  Rasmea’s testimony went into her life growing up in Palestine where the family was forced from their home in 1948.  The family was forced to live as refugees before moving to Ramallah, where they lived during the 1967 war and occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.  Ramsea then described her arrest by the Israeli military, her time as a political prisoner in Israel and her release as part of a prisoner trade.

Rasmea then went on to testify about the immigration process of coming to the United States.  She explained her English was weak at the time and she had her brother assist in filling out the forms.  She also testified that when there were questions about whether she had been arrested, her understanding was that those questions referred to arrests in the United States.

Rasmea’s testimony will continue today and she will be cross-examined by the government.  It is expected that closing arguments will follow her testimony and that the jury will begin deliberating on Monday, November 10.

For more on the trial
Earlier post from our site: Rasmea Odeh Trial to Begin Tuesday
Will Rasmea Odeh Go to Prison Because of a Confession Obtained Through Torture? in The Nation
Report on Rasmea Trial Day 2 by US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN)
Report on Rasmea Trial Day 3 by USPCN
Rasmea Odeh takes the stand in her own defense in Electronic Intifada
Press Release on Tuesday, November 4 from National Lawyers Guild

Motion to Dismiss Filed on Behalf of Animal Rights Activists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rasmea Odeh Trial to Begin Tuesday

Michael Deutsch (left) and Rasmea Odeh (right)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Mayor Emanuel Rides the Fence as Police Torturer Jon Burge Is Released From Prison

This article was originally posted in the HuffingtonPost on 10/10/2014.

by G. Flint Taylor.

On October 2, 2014, former Chicago police commander Jon Burge, who was convicted of lying about torturing over 100 African-American men at station houses on Chicago’s South and West Sides, walked out of the Butner Correctional Institution, having been released to a halfway house in Tampa, Florida. Meanwhile, in Chicago, a group of lawyers, activists, and City Council members, speaking at a widely covered press conference, renewed their demand for passage of a Torture Reparations Ordinance that would help to heal the lingering wounds left by the Chicago police torture scandal.

Burge’s 2010 conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice came nearly 20 years after his reign of racist terror finally ended. From 1972 to 1991, he led a torture ring of white Chicago detectives who routinely used electric shock, suffocation with plastic bags and typewriter covers, mock executions and brutal attacks on the genitals to obtain confessions from their victims. A team of lawyers at the People’s Law Office, including myself, documented 118 such cases. But a series of police superintendents, numerous Cook County prosecutors and a cover-up that implicated former Mayor Richard M. Daley (during his time as both mayor and state’s attorney) protected Burge and his men from prosecution until well after the statute of limitations had run out on their crimes of torture.

Like Al Capone’s prosecution for tax evasion, Burge could only be prosecuted for lying about what he and his men did, not for the deeds themselves. He was sentenced to the maximum term of four and a half years, and ended up serving three and a half before being released to a halfway house — a stark contrast to the fates of his victims, many of whom received life sentences on the basis of confessions that were tortured from them.

Despite his felony conviction, Burge continued to collect his pension (now more than $50,000 per year) while serving his time, and the Illinois Supreme Court recently decided four to three that he may continue to do so in the future. But the nearly $700,000 that Burge has already collected is little compared to what Chicago, Cook County, the State of Illinois and federal taxpayers have already expended as a result of the Burge torture scandal.

Chicago has spent more than $20,000,000 to provide legal defense to Burge and his men in the numerous civil damages suits brought against them over the years. Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois have paid out more than $66,000,000 in settlements to compensate the Burge torture survivors who were wrongfully convicted on the basis of false confessions. The city, county, state and federal governments have spent more than $15,000,000 investigating and prosecuting Burge. And his cabal of officers has received $22,000,000 in pensions to date.

The total financial damage to taxpayers as a result of the torture of over 100 black men that Burge oversaw, and the ongoing payouts to his collaborating officers, now exceeds $120,000,000, and will only keep growing.

While Burge’s conviction and imprisonment were rightly seen as a major victory for the ongoing human rights struggle against police torture, the battle has continued apace. As many as 20 Burge torture victims remain behind bars decades after their convictions, and the movement has focused on demanding new hearings for them at which they would be permitted to present the evidence of systematic torture that has come to light since their convictions.

Some of these men have won new hearings, while others have either been denied or are awaiting decisions from the courts or the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) on their requests. A court appointed monitor is examining prisoner files and letters to determine whether there are additional prisoners who may be entitled to judicial review of their claims of Burge-related torture. And the TIRC, which was created by the Illinois Legislature in response to the demands of community activists, is also reviewing some 65 additional claims of torture and related abuse at the hands of detectives who, while not working for Burge at the time of the alleged torture, had previously worked for him.

While Chicago has spent more than $20 million defending Burge and his crew, the dozens of survivors who have not been officially exonerated have received little or no compensation. Working menial jobs or unemployed, with many in need of health services for their physical and mental trauma, a number of them have courageously stepped forward and testified against Burge or have otherwise spoken out about their torture.

Two leading examples are Anthony Holmes and Darrell Cannon. Holmes, who was the first known victim of Burge’s electric shock and suffocation tactics, was a key witness against Burge at his trial and sentencing nearly 40 years later. Cannon, who in 1983was subjected to electric shock and a mock execution by three of Burge’s henchmen, has become the leading spokesman in Chicago’s anti-torture movement, and his case is featured in Amnesty International’s current campaign against torture in the United States.

Both men spent decades in prison on the basis of confessions tortured from them, but Holmes has received no compensation, while Cannon received a $3,000 settlement before the torture cover-up came unglued.

The contrast between the official treatment of the torturers and their victims has spurred activists, torture survivors and lawyers working with the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project (CTJM) to campaign for the passage of a city ordinance that would address this appalling discrepancy. Introduced into City Council last October by Aldermen Joe Moreno and Howard Brookins, the “Reparations Ordinance” calls for the establishment of a $20 million fund to compensate torture survivors who have so far received little money or nothing at all.

The reparations would also include an official public apology from the City of Chicago and the establishment of a center on Chicago’s South Side where survivors and their families could receive treatment and educational and job training opportunities. Additionally, the ordinance mandates that the history of Chicago police torture be taught in Chicago’s public schools, and that memorials to the torture survivors be erected in the city.

As a result of CTJM’s work, the ordinance now has the sponsorship of a majority of the 50 Chicago City Council members. CTJM has also issued a formal request to all of the city’s major Democratic candidates for mayor, both declared and undeclared, to publicly support the ordinance. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who is considering challenging Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 mayoral race, has issued a strong endorsement of the ordinance, stating that “reparations for the survivors of Chicago police torture are long past due.”

In a written response to the October 2 Press Conference, Mayor Emanuel stated that “on behalf of the city of Chicago, I want to once again apologize to the victims and their families for the injustices they have suffered and reaffirm my pledge as mayor to do everything in my power to right these wrongs and bring a close to this dark chapter in Chicago’s history.” However, only six days later, in response to the pointed questioning of dogged City Hall reporter Fran Spielman, Emanuel at first equivocated, saying, a year after the Ordinance was first introduced, that “on the money piece, we have to study it,” and then, more negatively, that “there are things that were mentioned that we’ll work through. As it relates to [monetary] reparations, I need time to evaluate it. I don’t think that’s the course we should take.”

With the February 2015 mayoral primary fast approaching, Emanuel, whose assertions of concern for the needs of the African-American community all too often ring hollow, would be wise to consider the consequences of failing to support such a reasonable effort to heal the still festering wounds inflicted by the torture scandal. If he fails to quickly do so, the demand for a prompt City Council hearing, at which the compelling reasons for passage of the Ordinance would be fully aired, will become a powerful rallying cry for justice on behalf of the Burge torture survivors.

Chicago, like the country at large, has been sensitized to racist police violence by the events in Ferguson, Missouri. In July, two African-American youths were shot downby Chicago police officers, and a Chicago police commander has been suspended and criminally charged for torturing an arrestee by shoving a gun into his mouth.

In this racially charged atmosphere, Burge’s release serves to further energize the forces that are fighting for justice for the survivors of torture. Reparations and fair hearings will go a long way to finally affording closure to a scandal that has dogged Chicago for more than forty years.

Governor of Puerto Rico Visits Oscar Lopez in Prison

Terre Haute, Indiana
Alejandro García Padilla/ Governor of Puerto Rico
October 8, 2014
The morning was colder than anticipated: 48 degrees Fahrenheit. I arrived the night before in Indianapolis, Indiana, from where we left, driving for an hour and a half, to the Holiday Inn in Terre Haute. That morning we met to have breakfast with Puerto Rican Congressman Luis Gutiérrez. Then we left for Terre Haute Federal Prison. Arriving, the cold hit us again. We walked to the entrance. There we identified ourselves and waited a few minutes to enter.
 
That prison was built in 1938 and later adapted for current requirements. It’s made of dark brick. It looks well maintained, clear and clean on the inside. Photos of the building as it looked in 1938 adorn the lobby. While I looked at them, the guard called me to go in. We passed the first and second gates. Then we walked through an internal yard that leads to the main building. Walking out to this yard, it was still cold. I thought of all the souls gathered there since 1938. How many deserved it. How many didn’t. How many who deserved it never got there. How many who deserve it now aren’t there.
 
We arrived at the main building. Another gate. A hallway, another door, and then another gate. Then a waiting room with some one hundred chairs. Comfortable. Like an airport. Placed in line across from each other. They’re assigned by number. We sit down. At the other end, a family with a prisoner.
 
Soon, from a door at the other end, out came the man I came to see. A short man, showing his years. He looked at me and smiled. He’s the same as he looks in the photo published with the column this newspaper publishes on Saturdays. He went to the guard and then walked over to us. Luis hugged him and they greeted each other with affection, like people who have known each other for more than 40 years. Then I greeted him. I gave him a big hug, and he returned it. I told him about the solidarity of his people and the affection all of us in Puerto Rico have for him. We hugged strongly again. We sat down. 
 
For almost three hours we talked about his childhood in San Sebastián. About his life in Chicago. About people in Chicago at the time. About his friends. About people in Puerto Rico at the time. About people in Puerto Rico now. We talked about Vietnam, where he was declared a hero. We talked about why he joined the independence movement. We talked about the current problems in Puerto Rico and about the most important thing to resolve them: solidarity.
 
Oscar López Rivera has been in prison for 33 years. He hasn’t been accused of committing any violent act. He hasn’t been connected to any violent act. He was accused of conspiring. The line that divides “conspiring” from “thinking” is very fine. I don’t think Oscar would be a danger for the future of our country, of our community, or of our family. His sentence, far too excessive, violates the most elemental principles of humanity, sensitivity and justice. Oscar López Rivera owes no debt to society, and if he ever did, he paid it a long time ago. He hasn’t done us any harm. 
 
Who has harmed us are corrupt politicians or those who mortgaged the future, our present, borrowing without caring who had to pay. But they’re not in Terre Haute. What has harmed us are the advertisements of the Republican ultra right of the U.S. press, sponsoring a local political party. But they’re not in Terre Haute. What has harmed us are those who only worry about votes, or about their counterpart in the media, ratings. But they don’t even know where Terre Haute is. Who harms us are the parents who aren’t concerned about their children’s education. But they aren’t even interested in knowing about what Terre Haute is.
 
After about three hours, I asked him what message, if any, he wanted me to take to you. He thought for a moment. He said he was grateful for what has been done for his release. Then he spoke of hope and of solidarity. Yes. This man who has been in prison for 33 years. Who is already 71 years old. He still has heart and spirit to talk about solidarity and hope. What a lesson for so many people!
 
The time arrived for me to leave. I had to go back to Indianapolis to catch my flight. I wanted to talk longer with him. I gave him a big hug. I told him that we would keep working for his release. I asked God to bless him. He thanked me. I thanked him. 
 
Leaving, it was still 48 degrees Fahrenheit. But for me, now it was a warm morning.
 
I hope to greet that compatriot again, in Puerto Rico. 

Reparations Now!

Chicago Torture Justice Memorials

c/o People’s Law Office      1180 N. Milwaukee Ave.     Chicago, Illinois  60642 www.chicatorture.org

For Immediate Release:          October 2, 2014

CHICAGO — Today, a coalition of Chicago City Councilmen, torture survivors, activists and attorneys drew together to demand the passage of an Ordinance providing Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors.  The ordinance is currently pending in the Finance Committee, and it has the support of 26 Alderpeople, possible Mayoral candidate Karen Lewis, Mayoral candidate Dr. Amara Enyia and Amnesty International, USA.

The Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project (CTJM), a group organizing around the Reparations Ordinance, called attention to the cruel irony that former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was being released from prison today.  Burge will be able to enjoy the benefits of his police pension funded by Chicago citizens’ taxpayer money, while the vast majority of Burge torture survivors have not received a penny in financial compensation from the City or any services or assistance needed to heal from the effects of the torture they and their families continue to suffer from.

Burge was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury in June of 2010 after he falsely denied in a federal civil rights suit that he and detectives under his command engaged in acts of torture and physical abuse.  In January of 2011, he was sentenced to serve 4 ½ years in prison.  Today, he was released from the Butner Federal Correctional Institution to a halfway house in Florida.

Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) and Howard B. Brookins (21st Ward) filed

the Ordinance in Chicago’s City Council on October 16, 2013.  The Ordinance is now supported by a total of 26 Alderpeople, including: Joe Moore (49th Ward), Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward); Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward), Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), Will Burns (4th Ward), Leslie Hairston (5th Ward), Toni Foulkes (15th Ward), Lona Lane (18th Ward), Willie Cochran (20th Ward), Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward), Michael Chandler (24th Ward), Danny Solis (25th Ward), Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward), Jason Ervin (28th Ward), Scott Waguespeck (32nd Ward), Deborah Mell (33rd Ward), Rey Colon (35th Ward), Nick Sposato (36th Ward), Emma Mitts (37th Ward), Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward), Michelle Smith (43rd Ward), James Cappelman (46th Ward), John Arena (45th Ward), Ameya Pawar (47th Ward).

Describing the need for the ordinance, Alderman Moreno said “The damage done by these individuals is irreversible and will remain a stain on Chicago’s reputation and collective consciousness for decades to come. It is our duty to help these victims and their families, and it is a moral and ethical imperative. It is our hope that the healing and forgiving process can begin with the passage of this legislation.”

Anthony Holmes, one of Burge’s first known victims, said in support of the ordinance, “Burge tortured me with electric shock and suffocation in 1973.  I was a witness against Burge at his perjury trial, but I have never received one penny in compensation because of the statute of limitations.  I now work delivering newspapers. The ordinance will bring some amount of justice to me and many other survivors.”

The Ordinance serves as a formal apology to the survivors; creates a Commission to administer financial compensation to the survivors; creates a medical, psychological, and vocational center on the south side of Chicago; provides free enrollment in City Colleges to the survivors; requires Chicago Public schools to teach a history lesson about the cases; requires the City to fund public memorials about the cases; and sets aside $20 million to finance this redress ­- the same amount of money the City has spent to defend Burge, other detectives and former Mayor Richard M. Daley in the Chicago Police torture cases.

The ordinance provides an equal amount of money — $20,000,000 — to compensate the survivors of Burge’s reign of torture as the City has already paid that amount to defend Jon Burge, Richard M. Daley and others responsible for these egregious acts.

“Now, that Burge has been convicted, no one can legitimately question that Burge and others engaged in these heinous acts of torture.  It is now time for the City of Chicago to take full responsibility for the egregious harm inflicted by Burge and his men and pass this legislation to provide the torture survivors and their family members the compensation and services they so richly deserve,” said Joey Mogul of the People’s Law Office and Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project (CTJM), who represents Anthony Holmes and numerous other torture survivors.

Alice Kim, of CTJM said “It’s about financial compensation, but also a formal apology, a public memorial and history lessons in Chicago schools would go a long way towards fully reckoning with these horrific atrocities.”

Adam Green, University of Chicago professor and CTJM member said: “We call today for our elected officials, our leaders and our neighbors to stand up, at last, and right wrongs which devastated the lives of over a hundred young men and women from 1972 to 1991, discrediting our city for twenty years and beyond, to the present day.

CTJM looks forward to having a hearing on the Reparations Ordinance in the Finance Committee in the coming weeks.

Over 120 African American men and women were subjected to torture that was racially motivated and included electric shock, mock executions, suffocation and beatings by now convicted former Police Commander Jon Burge and his subordinates.  Although Burge was convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the torture cases in federal court in 2010, scores of Chicago Police Torture survivors continue to suffer from the psychological effects of the torture they endured without any compensation, assistance, and they have no legal recourse for any redress.

 

Statement on the Ordinance Providing Reparations to the Chicago Police Torture Survivors

Adam Green (University of Chicago and CTJM) 10/2/2014

I speak this morning as one member of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project.  We are a fellowship of advocates, artists and researchers committed to a just, humane and accountable Chicago.  The fierce call for truth, along with unstinting support for inalienable human dignity, are cornerstones of all worthwhile endeavors, be they works of art, leadership of cities – or the joining into righteous struggles for change.

We call today for our elected officials, our leaders and our neighbors to stand up, at last, and right wrongs which devastated the lives of over a hundred young men from 1972 to 1991, discrediting our city for twenty years and beyond, to the present day.   We know that torture was committed in Chicago, by Jon Burge and detectives under his command, in Area Detective Stations 2 and 3 during this time.  We know this because those who survived torture, their families, and their advocates bore witness, filed suits, and marched in the streets, so that the atrocious story of their violation could be told and remembered.  But we also know – and cannot forget – that the shameful fact and searing memory of this torture was denied far too long by a government devoted to defending perpetrators rather than restoring victims, and ignored by too many in this city, tragically conditioned to believe that no action of law enforcement could, in fact, be judged too extreme.

This ordinance is a call, in solidarity with survivors of police torture and their families, for comprehensive reparations intended, first and foremost, to restore to them some measure of fairness and healing, against a balance of irreparable loss caused by gross physical and psychological harm, along with years of life thieved away through coerced convictions and often excessive prison sentences.  By engaging these Aldermen – our local representatives – to enact this ordinance, we are also asking all Chicagoans to join in restoring trust and wellbeing for these survivors and, through them, for the segregated and starved communities they grew up in, and live in today.

Such shared commitment to truth, justice and humanity, surely, represents this city far better than seeking to turn the page and close the book, absent healing for, and sincere atonement to, those who suffered the most from police torture in this city.

 

Alice Kim (CTJM Member) 10/2/2014

It is now known that over 110 African American and Latino people were systematically tortured by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his detectives, but this was not always the case. For years, no one believed the torture was happening. After he was tortured, Darrell Cannon drew these drawings from his cell at Cook County Jail. Still no one believed him. If you read Anthony Holmes’ testimony from Burge’s sentencing hearing in January 2011 he said that he tried to get help throughout the years, but no one listened to him. After serving 34 years for a crime he did not commit, Anthony said that he had no help and without any psychological counseling or other assistance, he slipped through the cracks.

Anthony and all of the torture survivors deserve better than that. This reparations ordinance was crafted based on the needs that the survivors themselves have expressed, from the hardships they continue to face. You don’t often don’t hear about cases like Anthony’s. The truth is scores of torture survivors and their families have not received any compensation or assistance whatsoever.

The survivors not only deserve to be financially compensated for the torture that was inflicted on them, they deserve support that will allow them to live healthy and productive lives; they and their families deserve to live with dignity; they deserve psychological counseling, vocational training, free education in our city colleges; they deserve an official public apology. Our communities deserve to have this history of torture taught in our public schools. And not unimportantly we, the people of Chicago and beyond, deserve public memorials to ensure collectively that we never forget this history and as a reminder for us to do everything in our power to keep this from ever happening again.