UN Committee Against Torture Calls Out the US Government

UN Committee Against Torture Calls Out US Government for Failing to Comply with Its International Obligations in the Burge Torture Cases: Calls on the US to Pass the Burge Torture Reparations Ordinance in Chicago

CHICAGO — On Friday, November 28, 2014, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UN CAT) condemned the U.S. Government and the City of Chicago for failing to provide sufficient redress to those who were tortured by notorious former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and the detectives under his command.  This is the second time in eight years that the UN Committee has condemned the U.S. Government for failing to fulfill its obligations under the Convention Against Torture with respect to the Burge torture cases.

Last week the UN Committee noted that the “vast majority of those tortured,” most of who are African American, “have received no compensation for the extensive injuries they suffered.” (see Paragraph 26).  The UN Committee called on the U.S. Government to provide redress to the Burge torture survivors by supporting the passage of the Ordinance seeking Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors that is currently pending in Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee.

In May of 2006, the UN Committee had addressed the Burge torture cases and condemned the “limited investigation and lack of prosecution.” It called on the U.S. Government to “bring the perpetrators to justice.”

In June 2010, Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for falsely denying that he and others engaged in acts of torture. He was sentenced to serve 4 ½ years in prison. In October 2014, Burge was released from federal prison after serving less than 3 ½ years.

In its most recent findings, the UN Committee also noted that the U.S. Government failed to prosecute any other officers responsible for torture under Burge’s regime because federal authorities allowed the statute of limitations to expire.

The UN Committee also cited its concerns about police militarization, racial profiling, and reports of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against African American and Latino youth, immigrants and LGBTI individuals.  In response to “We Charge Genocide,” who submitted a Shadow Report and sent an impressive delegation of youth of color to Geneva, Switzerland, the UN Committee noted is particular concern regarding “police violence in Chicago, especially against African-American and Latino young people who are allegedly being consistently profiled, harassed and subjected to excessive force by Chicago Police.”  The UN Committee also expressed “deep concern” about frequent and recurrent shootings and fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals, and the appalling use of tasers resulting in death, including the tragic death of Dominique Franklin, Jr. in Chicago and the “alleged difficulties” of holding police officers accountable for such abuses.  All of these issues and concerns were raised by the We Charge Genocide delegation.  Monica James, an organizer with the Tranformative Justice Law Project from Chicago, also testified at the hearing regarding police profiling and torturous prison conditions transgender women of color face nationwide in the U.S.

If passed by the Chicago City Council, the Ordinance seeking Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors would be an important step towards U.S. compliance with its obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

The Ordinance would serve as a formal apology to the survivors; create a Commission to administer financial compensation to the survivors; create a medical, psychological, and vocational center on the south side of Chicago; provide free enrollment in City Colleges to the survivors; require Chicago Public Schools to teach a history lesson about the cases; require the City to fund public memorials about the cases; and set 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.

Chicago City Council Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) and Howard B. Brookins (21st Ward) filed the Ordinance in Chicago’s City Council on October 16, 2013The Ordinance is now supported by a total of 26 Aldermen and women.

Over 110 African American and Latino men and women were subjected to torture that was racially motivated and included electric shocks, mock executions, suffocation and beatings by Burge and his subordinates.  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.

CTJM submitted a shadow report on the Burge torture cases in conjunction with the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights to the UN Committee.  Amnesty International, USA and Black People Against Police Torture & the National Conference of Black Lawyers also submitted shadow reports to the UN CAT on the Burge torture cases seeking redress for the torture survivors.  Shubra Ohri attended the UN CAT’s review of the U.S. Government this past November.  In May of 2006, Joey Mogul attended the UN CAT’s review of the U.S. Government and presented evidence on the Burge torture cases.

Torture Survivor Alonzo Smith Wins An Evidentiary Hearing

Chicago Police Torture Survivor Alonzo Smith Wins a New Evidentiary Hearing!

Today, in an important ruling, Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Erica L. Reddick granted Alonzo Smith a new hearing to present evidence that he was tortured by Chicago Police and forced to confess to a crime he did not commit. The night he was tortured, Mr. Smith was left bloodied on the floor, fearing for his life. He eventually relented to the abuse and falsely confessed to the murder and robbery of James Fullilove.

This tortured confession led to his wrongful conviction and incarceration for 20 years. Mr. Smith has steadfastly maintained his innocence and has persistently alleged that he was tortured by Sergeant John Byrne and Detective Peter Dignan, members of the now convicted, former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s notorious Midnight crew.

January 21, 1983: Tortured Into Confessing
Mr. Smith claimed that on January 21, 1983, he voluntarily traveled to Area 2 Police Headquarters to answer questions about a criminal investigation. Once he was there, he was interviewed by Burge, who threateningly warned him that he would talk “one way or the other” “before the night was over with,” and that they “had ways of making [him] talk.”
Later that evening, Dignan and Byrne took Mr. Smith down to the basement, where he was forced to sit on a swivel chair with his hands cuffed behind his back. Dignan then opened a grey plastic bag and brandished a rubber black night stick. Dignan hit Mr. Smith several times between the legs with the rubber nightstick and Byrne kicked him in the stomach. Both Dignan and Byrne hit Mr. Smith on the palms of his hands and the back of his legs with their nightsticks.

Dignan and Byrne then pulled a plastic bag over Mr. Smith’s head and tightened it with a large rubber band. While the bag was over Mr. Smith’s head, Byrne kicked him in the stomach, and Dignan hit him in the stomach with his nightstick. Dignan and Byrne told him that this was just “round one,” and when Mr. Smith again denied involvement in the crimes, Dignan and Byrne bagged and beat him again. This torture left Mr. Smith on the floor with his lip busted and blood on his clothes. Unable to take any more punishment, Mr. Smith agreed to falsely confess to a crime he did not commit, reciting a fabricated statement to a Cook County State’s Attorney fed to him by Byrne and Dignan.

Challenging the Torture-Induced Confession and the Way Forward
Back in 2000, Mr. Smith filed a successive post-conviction petition, which was amended in 2013, setting forth a wealth of newly discovered evidence to corroborate his torture allegations. This evidence consists of reports, testimony and court decisions which unequivocally establishes that Burge and the men under his command systematically tortured and abused suspects and witnesses at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters from 1972 through 1991. The new evidence also demonstrates that Dignan and Byrne have been accused of torturing scores of African American suspects, just as they did Mr. Smith, in a strikingly similar manner with precisely the same or similar objects. Many of these individuals have since been exonerated or have had their convictions overturned because their confessions were physically coerced.

Today, announcing her decision from the bench, Judge Reddick ruled that Mr. Smith was entitled to have an evidentiary hearing regarding his allegations that his confession was the product of physical coercion, finding that the that the newly discovered evidence presented in his petition was “monumental” and “significant.” She further found that Mr. Smith was entitled to proceed with his Brady claim in which he claims that evidence demonstrating the pattern and practice of torture at Area 2 Police Headquarters was withheld from him throughout his legal proceedings.

If Mr. Smith prevails at that hearing and the Court finds that his confession was physically coerced, his conviction will be vacated and he will be entitled to a new trial.

In response to learning of the decision, Mr. Smith said “I am overwhelmed with happiness. It is the first step towards freedom. God is good.”