Déjà vu all Over Again: Former Mayor Richie Daley Seeks to Duck Questioning about Police Torture Scandal

By G. Flint Taylor

                On Friday March 3, 2013, former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley filed his opposition to Chicago police torture survivor Ronald Kitchen’s motion for a court order compelling him to sit for a sworn, videotaped deposition. This is the latest skirmish in a nine year long legal battle to force Daley to answer about his central role in the police torture scandal and its cover-up. This involvement began with his refusal, while the elected State’s Attorney of Cook County, to prosecute Jon Burge, the mastermind of a now notorious police torture ring, when damning evidence of Burge’s sadistic brutality was first presented to him in 1982; continued on his watch as scores of African American torture survivors were subsequently prosecuted and wrongfully convicted on the basis of tortured confessions; and culminated with his role in the cover-up of the scandal after he became Mayor.

Richard Daley relationship to civil rights cases for Chicago Police Torture When public attention was drawn to Daley’s involvement in the torture scandal in 2006, he gave a short statement to the Special Prosecutor who was in the final stages of investigating Burge and his confederates. Not surprisingly, the questioning by the Special Prosecutor, who was a political disciple of Daley’s father, Mayor Richard J. Daley, consisted of a series of “softballs” interspersed with apologies for having the temerity to question such an important politician. The following year a federal judge ordered Daley to submit to a deposition in a case brought by torture survivor Madison Hobley, but the case was settled before the deposition occurred. In 2010, torture survivor Michael Tillman successfully joined Daley as a defendant in the racially motivated conspiracy that led to Tillman’s torture and wrongful conviction, but despite the court’s groundbreaking decision, Daley nonetheless resisted sitting for a deposition. Once again, the case settled before Daley had to face the music.

Now the lawyers for Ronald Kitchen, another Burge torture victim, seek to depose Daley. Kitchen, who gave a false written confession to one of Daley’s prosecutors, would not have been tortured and wrongfully convicted if Daley had acted six years earlier by prosecuting Burge. In one of his last acts before switching hats to become Chicago’s Mayor in 1989, Daley personally approved his prosecutors’ request to seek the death penalty in Kitchen’s case. Convicted on the basis of his coerced confession, Kitchen joined nine other Burge torture victims who were sent to death row with Daley’s approval. Twenty-one years later, Kitchen was exonerated and awarded a certificate of innocence by the Cook County courts.

After Daley was subpoenaed for deposition, his lawyers stalled for several months, requesting conferences with Kitchen’s lawyers at which the reasons for the deposition were further debated.  Daley’s private lawyers, who are handsomely paid with taxpayer funds, argued that his testimony was not relevant to the case and articulated Daley’s fear that the deposition video would be made public.  Finally, they conceded that which was apparent from the beginning — that they would not voluntarily present him, no matter what compromises Kitchen’s lawyers were willing to make. Thus Kitchen’s lawyers were forced to file a motion to compel Daley’s testimony, which set forth the basis for the deposition and the areas of questioning. Daley, the master of media manipulation, arranged to file his opposition late on Friday afternoon, no doubt so that the major news outlets, which have shown substantial interest in this issue in the past, would not pick up on it.

Daley’s opposition, which relied heavily on his longtime position as Mayor, attacked Kitchen’s lawyers, who have been instrumental in developing the evidence of Daley’s alleged complicity in the torture conspiracy, asserting that: Somewhat predictably, plaintiff [Kitchen’s] counsel has once again rekindled a longstanding personal campaign to subject former States Attorney/former Mayor Richard M. Daley, a nonparty, to a deposition. This ongoing quest at best is tantamount to a fishing expedition. More ominously, it suggests an unsubtle attempt to orchestrate media attention and generate pre-trial publicity rather than seek legitimate discovery. Not only are plaintiff’s proposed reasons for seeking the deposition suspect, he has not demonstrated a compelling need for the deposition

Ignoring Daley’s documented role in the racially motivated torture conspiracy, his lawyers highlighted the fact that there exists on You Tube a “one sided” video that features Kitchen describing his torture and shows Burge taking the Fifth Amendment and his fellow abuser, Michael Kill, proclaiming that he has used the “n-word” more than a million times.  Rather than a deposition, where he would be subjected to rigorous cross examination, Daley’s lawyers have again proposed in their opposition that he answer, no doubt with his lawyer’s skilled assistance, a limited set of written questions, a proposal that Kitchen’s lawyers have repeatedly rejected.

It is truly ironic that the once all powerful Mayor of the City of Chicago, who previously exerted near total control of the Chicago media, now so fears an under oath accounting of his 30 year involvement in the police torture scandal that his lawyers have filed his opposition in what amounts to the dead of night. Moreover, the question so frequently heard, particularly in the African American community — why are the taxpayers paying his high priced lawyers to continue to orchestrate this duck and dodge routine — has once again raised its ugly head.  As Daley continues to hide from a robust interrogation of his role, his well-deserved legacy from the torture scandal and its continuing cover-up continues to darken.

Racism, Torture and Impunity in Chicago

By G. Flint Taylor

This article appeared in the March 11-18, 2013 edition of The Nation.

In Chicago, Black History Month is a time when some of us reflect on one of our poorest kept secrets, an ongoing injustice born of brutal, systemic racism, which has spread over a generation and whose stain is deeply embedded in the fabric of the city.

Forty years ago, a rookie Chicago police detective named Jon Burge tortured Anthony Holmes using electric shock and suffocation, causing him to crawl on the floor in pain. Lacing this torture with racial epithets, Burge initiated a pattern of dehumanizing abuse that would terrorize at least 120 African American men, their families, and the black community for the next 20 years. This pattern was marked not only by its uniquely brutal tactics, but also by its overtly racist motivation. Burge referred to his notorious electric shock device as the “nigger box,” routinely used the term “nigger” as part of his torture routine, and also used the term to describe his victims in boasting conversations with friends and even casual acquaintances. One day, when asked by an acquaintance about his work investigating homicides, he remarked that he had been “dealing with dead niggers all day.” His “right hand men,” Sgt. John Byrne and Detective Peter Dignan, also repeatedly used the term, including during interrogations, introducing the plastic cover used for suffocation by saying that they “had something special for niggers,” and threatening to hang another suspect by pointing to a noose hanging from the basement ceiling and saying they “hang niggers around here all the time.” Burge and his confederates often focused their torture and brutality on the genitals of their victims.

This blatant racism is highlighted by two pending civil rights damages lawsuits brought under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, in which two wrongfully convicted torture survivors allege that their torture was the result of a racially motivated police conspiracy. In Darrell Cannon’s case, Byrne and Dignan informed him that they had “a scientific way to interrogate niggers,” then proceeded to take him to a remote area, and repeatedly electric shocked him on the genitals while using the racial slur so frequently that Cannon recalls thinking “that was my name.” In Ronald Kitchen’s case, Burge and detective Michael Kill beat him and kicked him in the genitals while racially taunting him. When later asked, under oath, how often he used the “n-word,” Kill proudly replied “more than a million times.”

Local historians, including African American history professor Adam Green at the University of Chicago, have linked this racially based torture to the brutality of slavery, lynchings, and Jim Crow. The parallels in the nature and focus of the brutality are undeniable. So too the selection of African American commanders chosen for their subservience who looked the other way when they heard the anguished screams of the torture victims, and actively participated in the cover-up. African American detectives were kept in line by strict enforcement of the police code of silence, and when they complained of Burge’s racism to their Commander, Burge threatened them with retaliation. Several of these detectives heard rumors that Burge was a Ku Klux Klan member in Indiana. So black detectives under Burge remained silent, coming forward to acknowledge the “open secret” only when they retired decades later.

The CookCountyprosecutor’s office not only countenanced and facilitated the racist pattern of torture; it also aggressively used the confessions so produced to wrongfully convict scores of African American men, sending a dozen to death row.  Some of these prosecutors kept a scorecard of their “accomplishments,” comparing the weights of their convicted defendants in a competition called “nigger by the pound.”

Richard M Daley’s long term involvement in the torture scandal is now well known. As Mayor he scorned all opportunities to apologize, and paid millions of public dollars to continue to defend against this undeniable record of racism. In 2006, special prosecutors given $7 million in public monies to investigate Burge and his men, somehow managed never to mention the racist nature of the torture in their 192 page report. And when Burge was finally put on trial in 2010 — not for the torture itself but for lying about it — his lawyers successfully kept any mention of racism out of the record. While waiting for the jury to return a verdict, Burge asked a courtroom observer whether the jury would really “believe that bunch of niggers,” apparently referring to the courageous men who had testified against him. One of those men was  Melvin Jones, to whom Burge rhetorically posed a similar question while torturing him with electric shocks 30 years earlier.

Last summer the Chicago City Council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed off on a settlement for another torture survivor, Michael Tillman, who was exonerated in 2010.  It was the perfect chance for the mayor to apologize on behalf of the city to the African American community that helped elect him. He chose not to do so. Instead, picking up where the Daley administration left off, the mayor has continued to fund Burge’s defense, paying private lawyers a total of $3.8 million to date in the Cannon and Kitchen cases alone. Incredibly, in the Kitchen case, the lawyers the Emanuel Administration has chosen to represent Burge are the very same lawyers a federal judge has found to have practiced “deliberate,” “purposeful,” and “invidious” “racially based” discrimination during jury selection in another wrongful conviction case.

Burge is now serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence in federal prison, where he continues to receive his pension on the taxpayers’ dime. None of his co-conspirators have been held accountable. At the same time, scores of torture survivors remain locked behind bars, serving significantly longer sentences for crimes to which they confessed while being brutalized. If Black History Month is to mean anything in a city like Chicago, our leaders must finally own up to this racist legacy—or they, too, will be remembered for covering it up.

Motion to Compel the Deposition of Richard M. Daley

On January 31, 2013 People’s Law office and MacArthur Justice Center lawyers filed a motion in Federal Court on behalf of police torture survivor  Ronald Kitchen that seeks a  Court order compelling former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to give a sworn deposition Richard Daley relationship to civil rights cases for Chicago Police Torturein Kitchen’s case. This motion emphasizes Daley’s central role in the Burge torture scandal, and documents Daley’s long running attempt, at taxpayer’s expense, to avoid questioning about his involvement in the decades long, racially motivated conspiracy.

Federal Appeals Court Hears Arguments in Historic Chicago Police Torture Case

By G. Flint Taylor

                On January 22, 2013, a three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the Chicago police torture case of Darrell Cannon versus the City of Chicago, Jon Burge et al. Cannon, who was tortured into giving a false murder confession in 1983 and served 24 years in prison as a result, had settled his civil rights brutality case in 1988 for the paltry sum of $3000. Over the next 20 years, the massive cover-up of the police torture scandal was dismantled, piece by piece, Cannon’s criminal case was dismissed in 2004, and he brought a new suit, alleging that the original settlement was void due to the police defendants’ fraud and conspiracy to cover-up. The suit was based on a 1984 Seventh Circuit decision, Bell v. Milwaukee, a police killing case in which the Court voided another unconscionably small settlement after an extensive police cover up was exposed by the partner of the police shooter 20 years after the shooting.

                 The City of Chicago aggressively contested Cannon’s suit, pouring more than $1.8 million into Burge and his confederates’ defense. After several years of pretrial discovery, the trial judge, in 2011, granted judgment for Burge, his police co-conspirators, and the City, holding that Cannon had not sufficiently proven fraud to overcome the prior settlement. Cannon appealed, briefs were filed, and the historic argument followed.

Cannon’s lawyer, G. Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office, set the stage for the argument with his opening remarks, asserting that, almost 30 years after deciding Bell, the Court was again presented with an “extraordinary” police violence case where the victim had been deprived of a “meaningful” and “effective” day in court by a “massive,” “racially motivated” police conspiracy to fraudulently cover-up. He then proceeded to lay out the compelling proof that supported Cannon’s claims of conspiracy and cover-up and explained how his case was therefore clearly controlled by the Bell decision. The Court appeared receptive, but, led by Judge Ilana Rovner, its tenor quickly changed as soon as the City’s lawyer began to argue in opposition:

Judge Rovner: Before you introduce yourself, it seems to me that the City has misread Bell. In   both Bell and this case, the determinative fact is not what the Plaintiff knew but what he could not prove because of the cover-up. In each case the extensive cover-ups prevented them from proving it.

After the City’s lawyer offered a response, Judge Rovner continued her pointed inquiry:

Look, if a defendant destroys evidence of wrongdoing and the Plaintiff knows it, does that mean that the more you lie, you cheat, you commit fraud in litigation, the greater your reward for forcing a small settlement?

Judge Rovner then rebutted the City lawyer’s assertion that the police defendants simply denied that they tortured Cannon, stating with an interspersed sigh that “they didn’t just deny, they lied, they cheated, they committed fraud, they committed cover-ups and they did it together, they did it as a group.”

Calling the City’s argument of “no fraud” as “unavailing, to be kind,” Judge Rovner  summarized the facts in the record:

They take a man with a prior murder conviction, then they lie, then they torture him into making a statement that leads to a second murder conviction, then they lie about it, then they destroy evidence, then they engage in this incredibly lengthy cover-up with other city officials. . . On what planet does he have meaningful redress in the courts under those circumstances? I mean, of course he was forced to settle unfavorably because the officers and perhaps the City have made it virtually impossible for him to prove his case. You would have us force a settlement procured by defendants that rigged the deck [so] that no Plaintiff could have proven a legitimate claim?

Judge Rovner then dismantled the City’s argument that Cannon was required to ask the defendants during his initial case if they had tortured other suspects:

That astonishes me, that argument [that] he was supposed to ask in discovery “by the way, have these officers tortured anyone else? Is the City helping these officers cover-up other criminal acts?” Was he obliged to ask if they were committing other criminal acts? How do you suppose they would have answered – — “yes, yes we’re criminals?”

Answer (by Counsel for the City): I don’t know . . .

Judge Rovner: Of course you know.

Judge Sarah Barker then suggested that it was not a “question of impossibility” but rather of “complete” “futility” because “police corruption” “basically . . . deprived [Cannon] of access to the courts.” Judge Rovner, then returned to the City’s argument that Cannon should have further questioned the police conspirators:

So why is Burge in prison now, bottom line, why do you think he is in prison now? What was it that put him in prison?

Answer (by Counsel for the City): He was convicted of committing perjury for denying   acts of   torture, yes.

Judge Rovner: Exactly.

Judge Rovner then addressed the question of the settlement’s unconscionability:

Look, at the time he settled, there was no way for him to begin to prove his case for torture,   much less prove the cover-up. He was in prison for murder, based on the confession he . . . has alleged from the beginning was the result of torture, his bargaining position was absolutely non-   existent under the circumstances.

Judge Rovner then returned to the symmetry between Cannon’s case and Bell decision:

Under Bell [Cannon], it seems to me, has shown exactly what he needs to show and any other result would mean that defendants could engage in a decade long cover-up with impunity. [Cannon] might “know” . . . that the police are lying but that is a great distance from being able to prove that that’s the case. . . I’m one of three, but it seems to me that if the defendants successfully suppress the truth in an effort to force an unfavorable settlement, they should not be rewarded for the success of their scheme when the truth eventually comes out. . . [N]o matter what the Plaintiffs knew in each of the cases, there were extensive criminal cover-ups that made it virtually impossible for them to prove their cases. . . . I think it’s a miracle that it was ever proved, a miracle.

Perhaps reflecting on the multi-million dollar settlements that a number of Burge victims have recently obtained from the City, Judge Barker returned to the paltry settlement given to Cannon in 1988:

Don’t you think, given all the things you know now and all the corruption that came to light . . . don’t you think it’s a thin reed on which you’re attempting to hang resolution to say, given all of that, $3000 is a fair settlement – — don’t you think that’s sort of a thin reed?

After the City’s lawyer attempted to minimize the value of Cannon’s case, Judge Barker capped the City lawyer’s 20 minute ordeal with this wry commentary:

Judge Barker: So you think there’s a chance he might settle for $3000 again?

Counsel for the City: (Stammering a response)

Judge Barker: Rhetorical. Rhetorical.

The Court took the case under advisement and is expected to issue a written decision within the next few months.

Taylor is one of Darrell Cannon’s lawyers and argued the case on his behalf in the Seventh Circuit. He is a founding partner of the People’s Law Office, which is a Chicago civil rights law firm, whose attorneys have been fighting for victims of police torture, brutality, wrongful convictions, false arrest and other government abuses for over 40 years.  For more information on police torture and other topics, visit peopleslawoffice.com.

APPELLATE ARGUMENTS HEARD IN CANNON TORTURE CASE

On January 22nd, a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals panel comprised of Judge Ilana Rovner, Senior Judge Kenneth Ripple, and District Court Judge Sarah Barker heard arguments on the Darrell Cannon police torture case. In essence, the issue presented was whether Cannon was bound by a 1988 settlement of $3000 or, under the principles enunciated almost 30 years ago by the Seventh Circuit in the case of Bell v. Milwaukee, he could void the settlement and proceed with his torture and wrongful conviction claims. At the heart of the argument was the massive, racially based conspiracy to torture and cover-up that only came to light, piece by piece, after Cannon settled. The Court was quite receptive to Cannon’s arguments, which were presented by People’s Law Office attorney Flint Taylor, and asked some very pointed questions of the City concerning the Burge torture scandal, its cover-up, and the City’s role in it. The argument can be heard here. A fuller description of the case can be read here, a video of Darrell Cannon describing his torture can be viewed below, and Cannon’s appellate brief can be found here