The Racist History of Chicago’s FOP

The FOP has, without exception, vociferously opposed every proposed police reform and effort to obtain police transparency.

“The FOP is the sworn enemy of Black people,” former Congressman Bobby Rush said while defending Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx from the racist attack of the Fraternal Order of Police in 2019. “The FOP has always taken the position that Black people can be shot down in the street by members of the Chicago Police Department, and suffer no consequences.”

The FOP’s history is a powerful testament to the chilling truth of Rush’s statement. Here is a thumbnail review of that history.

On Dec. 4, 1969, Fred Hampton, the charismatic chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, was slain in his bed by Chicago police in what has been documented and widely accepted as a politically motivated assassination. But the fledgling FOP nonetheless staunchly defended the police raiders.

In 1990, when the City Council passed a resolution that declared Dec. 4 “Fred Hampton Day,” the FOP launched a campaign to repeal the resolution, publicly belittled the Black Panther Party and slandered Hampton, who was a martyr to many Chicagoans. In 2006, after the City Council unanimously voted to rename the block where Hampton was murdered as “Chairman Fred Hampton Way,” the FOP sought its rescission and voiced its “outrage” and “disbelief.”

Defending torture

In the early 1990s, the FOP began its decades-long campaign to defend Jon Burge, the notorious police torturer, and his “midnight crew.” When the evidence of their systemic and racist police torture compelled the city to seek Burge’s firing, the FOP financed the officers’ defense, and mounted a vicious attack on Burge’s victims and their lawyers, who had brought much of the damning evidence to light. The FOP also organized a fundraiser where Burge was lionized by thousands of cops and prosecutors.

After Burge was fired in 1993, the FOP called the decision a “travesty of justice,” and announced that it intended to enter a float honoring Burge in the annual South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Public outrage and cries of racism forced the FOP to withdraw the float.

In 2008, after Burge was indicted for lying under oath about torture, the FOP Board adopted a resolution to pay for Burge’s defense. The FOP president asserted that Burge, despite being accused in more than 100 documented cases of torture, had been unfairly tarnished as the “poster child of alleged police torture in this city” and vowed that the FOP “will stand with the police officer every time.”

In 2010, Burge was convicted of three felonies and sentenced to federal prison. Nonetheless, the police pension board, in a split vote, ruled that he could continue to receive his pension, and the FOP successfully defended the ruling on appeal. When Burge died in 2018, former FOP President Dean Angelo declared that Burge did not get “a fair shake” and had an “honorable” and “very effective career.” 

In 2009, the FOP held a reunion during which it attempted to rewrite history about the wanton police brutality at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The FOP declared 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 FOP has also, without exception, vociferously opposed every proposed police reform and effort to obtain police transparency.

The FOP championed the cause and financed the defense of Jason Van Dyke, who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times and was later convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.

After protestors asked Chicago cops to take a knee in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives, current FOP President John Catanzara declared, “If you kneel . . . you will be thrown out of the [FOP] Lodge.” He has also defended the white supremacists who invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6th and recently invited Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to visit Chicago.  Tellingly, the recently chosen 27-member FOP Advisory Board is lily white.

After Cantanzara publicly defended a crew of CPD officers who invaded Rush’s Chicago office in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, Rush likened Chicago’s FOP to the KKK, saying they were “like kissing, hugging and law-breaking cousins. The number one cause that prevents police accountability, that promotes police corruption, that protects police lawlessness,” is the FOP, he said. “They’re the organized guardians of continuous police lawlessness, of police murder and police brutality.”The Chicago FOP, Rush continued, “is the most rabid, racist body of criminal lawlessness by police in the land. It stands shoulder to shoulder with the Ku Klux Klan then and the Ku Klux Klan now.”

We’re hearing a lot about the FOP these days. As concerned Chicagoans, it is an important time for all of us to reflect on this racist history. 

Flint Taylor is a founding partner of the People’s Law Office in Chicago. He was one of the lead lawyers in the landmark Fred Hampton and Mark Clark civil rights case and has represented numerous police torture survivors during the past 35 years. 

This op-ed originally was published on March 27th, 2023 in the Chicago Sun-Times

County Prosecutors Criminally Charged in Burge Torture Cover-up

Until now, no Cook County prosecutor has ever faced charges for prosecutorial misconduct in a wrongful conviction case

Misconduct caused Burge torture survivor Jackie Wilson to be wrongfully imprisoned 36 years

CHICAGO – A four-decade saga of police rampage, torture, cover-up and perjury reached a new chapter today when two former Cook County Assistant State’s Attorneys were criminally charged for crimes arising out of Jackie Wilson’s 36-year wrongful conviction. 

After being tortured into a false confession by Jon Burge and his cohorts, Jackie Wilson endured a 38-year quest for justice.  Wilson’s third trial concluded on October 1, 2020 during the examination of Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Nicholas Trutenko.  The special prosecutor in Wilson’s retrial abruptly dropped all charges against him when it was revealed that a then-CCSAO prosecutor, Trutenko, testified falsely on the stand and concealed a witness named William Coleman. Coleman is a reputed international con man who repeatedly perjured himself decades ago to secure Wilson’s conviction.  Trutenko was immediately fired by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.  He has since abandoned his law license.  Horvat was caught trying to hide exculpatory evidence from Wilson and the Court at the retrial.  After Wilson filed a lawsuit naming him as a Defendant, Horvat separated from the Office

After the dismissal, Wilson’s legal team sought accountability for the egregious misconduct that led to his wrongful conviction.  On October 19, 2020, Wilson filed a motion for sanctions for misconduct that occurred leading up to and during Wilson’s third retrial.  On February 22, 2021, Wilson moved for the appointment of a special prosecutor.  On June 10, 2021, Cook County Criminal Court Judge Alfredo Maldonado granted Wilson’s and ordered that a special prosecutor investigate alleged criminal conduct by Trutenko, Horvat, and Coleman, citing the “sordid history of the investigation and criminal prosecutions in this case serve as a shameful chapter in Chicago’s history….”  The Court ruled that:

The record in this case absolutely calls into question the reasons behind the CCSAO’s decisions and conduct regarding Trutenko. At best, the CCSAO acted in a misguided and inept manner as to Trutenko and the ethical crisis created by his misconduct and trial testimony. However, at worst, the actions of the CCSAO, as to Trutenko, could have been motivated by unethical and, perhaps, illegal reasons to cover up misconduct. Accordingly, sufficient reason exists to warrant an independent investigation into Trutenko’s misconduct and into the actions of the CCSAO, as an institution, related to the substance of Trutenko’s trial testimony and his alleged perjury.

With this historic backdrop, Wilson’s legal team provides a short statement on the issuance of charges:

“This indictment of one of the main Cook county prosecutorial conspirators in the Chicago police torture scandal and perpetrators of the wrongful conviction of Jackie Wilson underscores the fact  that the Cook County Board, its President Toni Preckwinkle, and Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx , should immediately stop funding the multi-million dollar defense of these prosecutors in the Wilson civil rights case and award appropriate compensation to Wilson for his 36 years of wrongful incarceration.”

– Flint Taylor, Partner at People’s Law Office

“Today is another important chapter in Jackie Wilson’s quest for justice.  Since his exoneration, our team has sought accountability for the egregious police and prosecutorial misconduct that stole 38 years from Jackie’s life.  The Special Prosecutor’s investigation and decision to criminally prosecute Nicholas Trutenko and Andrew Horvat serves as a historic moment for Jackie Wilson and other wrongfully convicted individuals around the nation.  The criminal charges against Trutenko and Horvat send a clear message to prosecutors: your misconduct will someday unravel, and when that happens, the wrongfully convicted will seek to hold you accountable to the fullest measure of the law.”

– Elliot Slosar, Partner at Loevy & Loevy

Time-line of Jackie Wilson’s fight for justice

1966-68 – After washing out of college, Jon Burge served two tours of duty in Vietnam where he worked as an interrogator of Vietnamese prisoners and learned torture techniques that would later become infamous in Chicago.

1972-91 – Burge “either directly participated in or implicitly approved the torture” of at least 118 people in police custody, according the The Guardian. [keep link]

February 9, 1982 – Chicago Police Officers William Fahey and Richard O’Brien robbed and murdered.
“[M]ayor Jane Bryne and her police superintendent, Richard Brzeczek, mandated what would become the most massive manhunt in the City’s history. Brzeczek designated lieutenant Jon Burge, who headed up the Violent Crimes Unit at Area 2, to direct the search for the killers…. Under Burge’s command, incensed CPD officers kicked in doors, ransacked homes, beat up numerous residents, and, once suspects were in custody, tortured those Black men they suspected of either being involved in or having knowledge of the crime….  Upward of two hundred complaints were filed with the CPD by abused persons…” Flint Taylor, The Torture Machine: Racism and Police Violence in Chicago

February 14, 1982 – Jackie Wilson tortured by Area Two detectives Thomas McKenna and Patrick O’Hara, at the direction and with the participation of Jon Burge. Wilson’s torture occurred with the knowledge and participation of former Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney, Lawrence Hyman, and Cook County Court Reporter, Michael Hartnett.

Charged with murder and robbery at age 22, Wilson would not be freed until he was 58 years old.

February 1982 – Dr. Jack Raba, director of medical services at Cook Jail, observes obvious signs of torture on the body of Andrew Wilson, Jackie’s brother, and writes an explicit letter about it to then-Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek, who in turn shared the letter with Major Jane Bryne, the Office of Professional Standards, and then-Cook County State’s Attorney and future Mayor Richard M. Daley

1983 – Jackie Wilson found guilty as police and prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence, including evidence relating to an eyewitness to the murders, and perjured themselves.

1987 – Wilson’s first wrongful conviction reversed by the Illinois Appellate Court and remanded for a new trial

~1988 – Assistant State’s Attorney Nicholas Trutenko and jailhouse informant William David Coleman fabricated a false story that falsely implicates Wilson in the crimes against Fahey and O’Brien.

1989 – Wilson’s retrial, during which prosecutors introduce Wilson’s false tortured statement, the Trutenko/Colman fabricated evidence, and false testimony coerced out of DeWayne Hardin. William Kunkle helps Trutenko and Coleman suppress the fact that Coleman’s story was false, manufactured, and purchased by County and City monies. Wilson found guilty.

May 2015 – The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) returned Wilson’s case to the Cook County Criminal Court for a hearing on the issue of whether Plaintiff’s confession was tortured from him.

January 2017 to June 2018 – Wilson’s case was referred to court for further review after Illinois’ Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC) found there was sufficient evidence that he was tortured. After eighteen months of litigation and a four-day evidentiary hearing, Circuit Court Judge William H. Hooks issued a 119-page opinion that found that Wilson’s false confession should be suppressed and ordered a new trial. In doing so, Judge Hooks opined:

“There is more than enough to surmise what happened in the investigation and interrogation of Jackie Wilson was not good – instead, very bad and ugly.  The conduct of those involved in this most serious of investigations, which involved attempting to discover and ethically prosecute the murderer or murderers of two Chicago police officers required more.  Much more was required of the Chicago Police Department, the Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney, our courts, the private and public defense bar, and indeed, our federal government…The abhorrence of basic rights of suspects by Mr. Burge and his underlings has been costly to the taxpayers, the wrongfully convicted, and worst of all, the dozens of victims and their families who have suffered untold grief – in many cases, a 30-plus year horror story.”

June 2018 – After 36 years in maximum security jails and prisons, Wilson is finally freed on a recognizance  bond.

September 2020 – The Cook County Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) subjected Wilson to yet another retrial, with its primary evidence being the false, manufactured and fabricated 1989 testimony of William Coleman. During the third trial, Andrew Horvat joined and participated in Trutenko’s continuing effort to withhold critical and material exculpatory evidence that would have unraveled Trutenko’s continuing illicit relationship with jailhouse informant Coleman. Horvat and Trutenko not only withheld this exculpatory and impeachment evidence from Wilson and the OSP, but he also actively concealed this evidence from the OSP and urged OSP to not inquire into it.

After a two-week bench trial before Judge Hooks, the OSP dismissed all pending charges against Plaintiff with prejudice.  In doing so, OSP informed the Court that Trutenko suppressed the fact that he had a continuing relationship with Coleman and committed perjury on the witness stand.

October 1, 2020 – The special prosecutor in Wilson’s retrial abruptly dropped all charges against him when it was revealed that a then-CCSAO prosecutor, Trutenko, concealed a witness named William Coleman. Coleman is a reputed international con man who repeatedly perjured himself decades ago to secure Wilson’s conviction.

December 18, 2020 – Jackie Wilson’s petition for a Certificate of Innocence is granted by Judge William H. Hooks, whereby the State of Illinois officially recognizes him to be an innocent man. Hooks commented,

“[T]he Cook County justice system itself has been tortured. Jackie Wilson has also been physically tortured by a brutal electrical box torture ritual and has already wrongfully served a sentence that has taken roughly 70 percent of his life.  Jackie Wilson will never be able to recoup the value of his life lost to the living hell he experienced at the hands of his government.  While Jackie Wilson extraordinarily deserves and has earned this Certificate of Innocence, others deserve to pay for that they have so unjustly caused both directly and indirectly.”

June 10, 2021 – Cook County Criminal Court Judge Alfredo Maldonado ordered that a special prosecutor investigate alleged criminal conduct by Trutenko, Horvat, and Coleman, citing the “sordid history of the investigation and criminal prosecutions in this case serve as a shameful chapter in Chicago’s history….”

“Because of the actions of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office before, during and after Trutenko’s testimony, a sufficient basis exists to investigate whether any persons, including but not limited to current or former members of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, engaged in criminal conduct….”

“The record in this case absolutely calls into question the reasons behind the CCSAO’s decisions and conduct regarding Trutenko. At best, the CCSAO acted in a misguided and inept manner as to Trutenko and the ethical crisis created by his misconduct and trial testimony. However, at worst, the actions of the CCSAO, as to Trutenko, could have been motivated by unethical and, perhaps, illegal reasons to cover up misconduct. Accordingly, sufficient reason exists to warrant an independent investigation into Trutenko’s misconduct and into the actions of the CCSAO, as an institution, related to the substance of Trutenko’s trial testimony and his alleged perjury.”

This is the first-ever appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute members of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for misconduct in a wrongful conviction case. This is also the first referral for an investigation of Cook County State’s Attorneys for criminal misconduct in their duties as prosecutors since the federal ‘Operation Graylord’ prosecution in the 1980s.

Free Bernina Hanukkah Action

On December 19, 2022, over 30 people joined a Hanukkah celebration at Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s home in Chicago to demand that he sign the executive clemency petition for Bernina Mata. The #FreeBernina Team and Love & Protect organized the action on the second night of Hanukkah, a celebration of a struggle for liberation, to urge Governor Pritzker to liberate Bernina, other criminalized survivors and all who are suffering under the violence of incarceration.  The action was co-sponsored by American Friends Service Committee Chicago’s Peacebuilding Program, Tzedek Chicago, Chicago Light Brigade (shoutout @kellyhayeswrites), MAMAs, and the Transformative Justice Law Project.

Free Bernina Light Installation December 19, 2022

People sang Hanukkah songs, heard powerful testimonies, and honored the Hanukkah tradition by creating a “Free Bernina” light installation.  The crowd learned about the holiday from Tzedek Rabbi Brant Rosen and were led in song by cantor Adam Gottlieb and #Free Bernina Team member Debbie Southorn. April Ward of MAMAs shared a moving testimonial about the prison conditions her son, Mickiael Ward, is forced to endure in an IDOC prison and a moving tribute by Kelly Hayes of Lifted Voices. Joey Mogul, co-counsel for Bernina with Rachel White-Doman of the Illinois Prison Project, also described the State’s racist and homophobic prosecution of Bernina. To read more about the action, check out the article in Windy City Times.

In 1998, at 28 years old, Bernina stabbed and killed John Draheim in her home after he attempted to sexually assault her. The State charged Bernina with capital murder, despite significant mitigating circumstances including her extensive history of sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father and father and her belief that she was about to be raped.

To secure the death penalty, the State seized on Bernina’s racial and sexual identity to argue that she intentionally killed him. The State claimed Draheim was making an unwanted sexual pass at her, and that caused Bernina as a “hard core lesbian” him to kill him. A prosecutor argued “a normal heterosexual woman would not be offended by such conduct as to murder.” During Bernina’s trial, the State paraded 10 witnesses before the jury who testified she was gay, presented 3 books from her bookcase with gay titles and referenced her lesbian sexual identity on 17 occasion to prejudice a Boone County jury to motivate them to convict and kill her. She was sentenced to die in 1999.

In 2003, her death sentence was commuted to life as part of a successful clemency campaign. She is currently serving a life sentence. If prosecutors had not sought the death penalty, she would likely be free today. Her only chance to be free from prison is for Governor Pritzker to commute her life sentence.

The #FreeBernina Team is asking Governor Pritzker to grant her clemency petition and commute her sentence so she can come home in 2023. Please support her clemency petition by emailing Governor Pritzker and Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton here.

Joey and Kris Clutter, a paralegal at the People’s Law Office, are proud members of the #Free Bernina team.

Photos thanks @kellyhayeswrites!

Nora Snyder 

Nora Snyder (she/her) joined the People’s Law Office as a Civil Rights Litigation and Movement Lawyering Fellow in 2022. As a law student at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, she worked in the MacArthur Justice Center civil rights litigation clinic, focusing on cases on behalf of transgender women imprisoned in Illinois. She also interned at Beyond Legal Aid, Uptown People’s Law Center, and the National Immigrant Justice Center, and volunteered with the Transformative Justice Law Project. Prior to joining the office, Nora spent two years clerking in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals staff attorney’s office, working largely on pro se cases. Nora is a trained restorative justice Circle Keeper and is active in the mutual aid network in her neighborhood, Edgewater.

Hakeem Muhammad

Mr. Muhammad’s upbringing in the “Black belt of Chicago” inspired him to become an attorney that focuses on protecting the human rights of communities that have been historically marginalized. He has spoken and written extensively on the criminogenic impact of structural racism on Chicago’s African American communities. Prior to law school, Mr. Muhammad lectured in African American political thought at Michigan State, U.C Berkeley, and Harvard Debate Counsel. Subsequently, Hakeem Muhammad became a Public Interest Law Scholar at Northeastern University School of Law. During his time at Northeastern School of Law, Mr. Muhammad was a recipient of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Fellowship and would also be awarded the Oliver Wendel Holmes Scholarship by the Massachusetts Bar Association. Upon graduation from law school, Mr. Muhammad worked as a trial attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services where he worked extensively in the racial justice litigation unit working to innovate motions to challenge the impact of racism in criminal trials.

Welcoming our New Fellows

The People’s Law Office is pleased to announce the launch of its Civil Rights Litigation and Movement Lawyering Fellowship, with two inaugural fellows, Hakeem Muhammad and Nora Snyder.

We welcome them to PLO and look forward to working with them throughout their two-year fellowship.

Mr. Muhammad’s upbringing in the “Black belt of Chicago” inspired him to become an attorney that focuses on protecting the human rights of communities that have been historically marginalized. He has spoken and written extensively on the criminogenic impact of structural racism on Chicago’s African American communities. Prior to law school, Mr. Muhammad lectured in African American political thought at Michigan State, U.C Berkeley, and Harvard Debate Counsel. Subsequently, Hakeem Muhammad became a Public Interest Law Scholar at Northeastern University School of Law. During his time at Northeastern School of Law, Mr. Muhammad was a recipient of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Fellowship and would also be awarded the Oliver Wendel Holmes Scholarship by the Massachusetts Bar Association. Upon graduation from law school, Mr. Muhammad worked as a trial attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services where he worked extensively in the racial justice litigation unit working to innovate motions to challenge the impact of racism in criminal trials.

Nora Snyder (she/her) joined the People’s Law Office as a Civil Rights Litigation and Movement Lawyering Fellow in 2022. As a law student at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, she worked in the MacArthur Justice Center civil rights litigation clinic, focusing on cases on behalf of transgender women imprisoned in Illinois. She also interned at Beyond Legal Aid, Uptown People’s Law Center, and the National Immigrant Justice Center, and volunteered with the Transformative Justice Law Project. Prior to joining the office, Nora spent two years clerking in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals staff attorney’s office, working largely on pro se cases. Nora is a trained restorative justice Circle Keeper and is active in the mutual aid network in her neighborhood, Edgewater.

Free Mutulu Shakur: Calls Grow for Compassionate Release for Dying Black Liberation Activist

Watch Nkechi Taifa, lawyer and CEO of the social justice-centered consulting firm Taifa Group and longtime friend and supporter of Mutulu Shakur and Brad Thomson from the People’s Law Office and Mutulu Shakur’s current attorney talk to Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman about the urgent push for the compassionate release of longtime political prisoner Mutulu Shakur from prison. #FreeMutulNow!

Click here to watch the full interview on Democracy Now!

Click here to view the petition for writ of habeas corpus filed last week for Mutulu.

PLO Opened 53 Years Ago Today

“We had decided to call ourselves the People’s Law Office, informally at least, and our purpose was easily encapsulated in the obligation to be worthy of that name.” – – – Dennis Cunningham

On August 1, 1969 a dedicated band of ’60s radicals opened the People’s Law Office in a converted sausage shop located at 2156 N. Halsted Street on Chicago’s North Side.That founding band was comprised of attorneys Francis “Skip” Andrew, Dennis Cunningham, Jeff Haas, and Don Stang; law students Seva Dubuar, Ray McClain, Flint Taylor and Jack Welch, and a volunteer staff that included BPP member Ann Campbell and, I think, Rising Up Angry member Norrie Davis.53 years later we are proud to say that we have done our best to continue to be worthy of the name. Today’s PLO members, carrying on in the footsteps of hundreds of lawyers, law students, and staff who are treasured alumnae and alumni are attorneys Ben Elson, Jani Hoft, Joey Mogul, Jan Susler, Flint Taylor, Brad Thomson, Michael Deutsch (of counsel) and John Stainthorp (of counsel); staff members Lourdes Arias, Kris Clutter, and Alexis Pegues, and summer interns Molly Crane, Julia Van Horn, Emani Miles, and Tayleece Paul.La Luta Continua!

Follow this link to a short film documenting some of our work over the past five decades.