Lightfoot Administration Defending Burge Torture Henchmen

By: Flint Taylor

This article was initially published in InJustice Watch on Feb. 14, 2020.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is poised to embark on defending two of the most notorious of Jon Burge’s midnight crew—former Chicago Police Sergeant John Byrne and Detective Peter Dignan—in a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of 65-year-old Stanley Wrice, whom they are alleged to have tortured and sent to prison for more than three decades.

Barring an unexpected last minute settlement, the trial will open next Thursday in U.S. District Court Judge Harry D. Leinenweber’s courtroom, where Managing Deputy Corporation Counsel Caryn Jacobs and Andrew Hale, a private lawyer who has been paid $1.5 million to date for his work on the case, will try to convince a jury that Byrne and Dignan did not torture Wrice in the bowels of Area 2 Chicago Police Headquarters in 1982.

For 30 years, since the civil rights case of torture victim Andrew Wilson went to trial, the city’s lawyers in past administrations had eschewed efforts to reasonably settle torture claims, making the refusal in Wrice’s case especially striking.

Wrice was picked up with several co-defendants on Sept. 9, 1982, for the alleged rape of a white woman the previous day and taken to Area 2, where they all claimed to have been serially tortured by Byrne and Dignan.

While handcuffed in a cell, Wrice alleges, he was repeatedly beaten with a long metal flashlight and a rubber nightstick—a trademark of the torturers—about the head, arms, legs, and genitals before he gave a confession. Medical evidence fully supports his injuries.

Three of the others picked up with him also say they were beaten with the same rubber nightstick, while one was also subjected to another of Byrne and Dignan’s favorite tactics—simulated suffocation with a plastic bag. Racist taunts allegedly accompanied this wanton brutality and one of the men was threatened with hanging, told — using a pejorative — that other black men had been hung, and threatened to kill him if they ever saw him in a white neighborhood.

Before Judge Leinenweber, Byrne and Dignan no doubt once again will invoke the Fifth Amendment when asked whether they tortured Wrice, his co-defendants, and other African American men known to have been similarly tortured. Their silence can be held against them, as should prior findings of several courts, including the Illinois Supreme Court, and a Cook County special prosecutor, that Byrne and Dignan’s midnight crew was the engine that drove the pattern and practice of police torture at Area 2.

When Wrice was finally exonerated in 2013 after 31 years behind bars, presiding Judge Richard Walsh specifically found that Byrne and Dignan committed perjury at Wrice’s criminal trial when they denied torturing him and his associates.

In the last five years Lori Lightfoot, re-inventing herself as a police reform advocate, has herself made some strong statements about the Burge torture scandal and the police code of silence.

In 2016, the Police Accountability Task Force, which Lightfoot chaired, unequivocally stated “from 1972 to 1991, CPD detective and commander Jon Burge and others he supervised tortured and abused at least 100 African-Americans on the South and West sides in attempts to coerce confessions.”

Wrice and his associates are important members of that group of torture survivors and Byrne and Dignan lead the group of “others he supervised.”

After Burge died in September 2018, then mayoral candidate Lightfoot stated that “with the passing of Jon Burge, we must reflect on the dark legacy that he embodied, so many lives shattered, and a horrible stain on the legitimacy of policing that resonates today.”

And less than a month ago she stood with her interim police superintendent, Charlie Beck, who invoked the “horrific actions” of Burge and his crew as a “tipping point” that “resulted in a huge loss of trust and confidence by the community in their police departments. … even more dramatically, there’s a human cost.”

Nonetheless, in what appears to be a decision that smacks of blatant hypocrisy, Lightfoot’s handpicked lawyers stand ready to defend the indefensible.

Hale, who was sanctioned by former Chief U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo for  misconduct in a previous torture trial, stands to make another million on the Wrice case, in addition to the $1.5 million he has already received.

In all, over the years, the city has paid Hale more than $30 million for defending police misconduct cases, including those against his publicly professed heroes—Burge and his “right hand men,” Byrne and Dignan.

Unlike the torture survivors who have obtained $6 to $10 million dollar settlements from the city, Wrice has not received a certificate of innocence from the Cook County Courts. In the past 15 years, prior administrations have settled those cases where guilt or innocence is not thus resolved, in the $2 million to $4 million range.

That seems fair here. If the case is tried, upwards of $4 million will have been spent defending the indefensible, Wrice and several of his fellow torture survivors will have been revictimized, and Mayor Lightfoot’s strong statements condemning the dark history of police torture will be exposed as a sham, designed to curry political favor.

She stands at a legal and political crossroads; the question is whether she will stands with the torturers or torture victims. As lawyers like to say, “The jury is still out.”

Judge Denies the Mayor’s Office Bid to Withhold Emails on the Construction of the Cop Academy

On Friday, January 10, 2020, Cook County Judge Sophia Hall denied the Mayor’s Office bid to withhold over 400 documents concerning the creation of the Joint Public Safety Academy (“Cop Academy”), on Chicago’s West Side. The decision was issued in FOIA litigation brought by Debbie Southorn and Erin Glasco, the plaintiffs and organizers with #NoCopAcademy campaign, filed in the spring of 2018.

Southorn and Glasco previously filed several FOIA requests seeking information regarding Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plans to build the Cop Academy in West Garfield Park, estimated to cost over $95 million, which many believe is wholly unnecessary and will not decrease police violence that destroys the lives of scores of Black and Latinx people in Chicago. The original decision to create the Cop Academy was shrouded in secrecy without any public input as to whether it should be built and where it should be located.

In describing why they brought the lawsuit, Plaintiff Southorn said, “From the outset, Mayor Emanuel engaged in extensive planning and preparation to build this police academy without consulting the residents of the West side or Chicago.  We filed the lawsuit to get all the plans he refused to disclose so that the civilians of Chicago can have all the necessary information to evaluate whether their taxpayer funds should be used to build a police academy or whether their money is better spent on school, mental health and other social services desperately needed on Chicago’s West side.”

The Mayor’s Office argued the documents, including those pertaining to public messaging about the Cop Academy, were protected from disclosure by the “deliberative process privilege.” The People’s Law Office, representing Southorn, Glasco and the #NoCopAcdemy campaign, argued that the bulk of the documents were not protected from disclosure because the materials were generated after Mayor Emanuel made the ultimate decision to build the Cop Academy, and therefore, were not deliberative of his decision to build it. To date, the Mayor’s Office has refused to disclose when Mayor Emanuel decided to build the Cop Academy. 

After months of litigation and several oral arguments, Judge Sophia Hall ruled that Mayor Emanuel was the final decision maker regarding whether to create the Cop Academy and materials withheld by the Office of the Mayor after he made the decision to build the Academy must be disclosed.  Judge Hall’s ruling affirmed #NoCopAcademy’s argument that “the Mayor’s role was to make a decision as to whether to pursue the construction of the JPSTA [Cop Academy].  The Mayor’s Office announcement in the July 3, 2017 Press Release reflected the Mayor’s Office’s decision to build the JPSTA [cop academy].”

This is a win for #NoCopAcademy activists fighting for transparency around how decisions happen in the city of Chicago, and setting the historical record straight.  We look forward to reviewing the newly released documents and continuing to support those who organize for investment in youth and communities, not expanded investments in policing.   Read the decision: here.

Southorn, Glasco and the #NoCopAcademy campaign are represented by Joey Mogul, Ben Elson and Christian Snow of the People’s Law Office.

Illinois Appeals Court Affirms New Trial for Jackie Wilson

Yesterday, the Illinois Appellate Court rendered its decision in the Jackie Wilson police torture case. Affirming Cook County Circuit Judge William Hooks’ 119 page decision in which he found that Wilson was tortured into giving a confession, the Court remanded the case for a new trial. In a unanimous decision written by Justice Lavin, the Court recognized that the evidence told  a “morbid tale of improper law enforcement,” and condemned the Special Prosecutors’ who appealed Hooks’ ruling as displaying a “stunning level of denial about the well-established practice of torture in Area 2 and findings of torture by the special prosecutors’ own predecessors.” Wilson was and is represented by Flint Taylor, John Stainthorp and Christian Snow of the People’s Law Office and Elliot Slosar of the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project.

Read the opinion Here.

PLO Attorney Michael Deutsch Argues for the Release of Ronnie Carrasquillo in the Illinois Appeals Court

On November 21st, People’s Law Office Attorney Michael Deutsch argued in front of the Illinois Appeals Court for the release of his client Ronnie Carrasquillo. Ronnie was sentenced to several hundred years in prison for the 1976 death of a Chicago Police Officer. In Michael’s argument, he highlighted the biased and corrupt Judge Wilson who sentenced Ronnie. Read more about the argument and Ronnie’s case in this recent InjusticeWatch article here.

Also, listen to the Oral Argument here.

People’s Law Office Remembers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark

Today marks 50 years since the Chicago Police, FBI and Cook County State’s Attorney conspired to murder Fred Hampton and Mark Clark of the Black Panther Party.

This short video honoring Fred is an excerpt from a soon to be released documentary about the 50 year history of our office, directed and produced by Tom Callahan of Sensitive Visuals.*

Our office filed a civil rights lawsuit and fought for over 13 years to expose the role of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program and we succesfully obtained a $1.85 million settlement for family members and survivors of the raid.

The legacy of Fred Hampton lives on and continues to inspire us to fight against racist and politically motivated state violence.

*Archival content courtesy of Freedom Archives.

Video Link Here

Other Links

WBEZ interview with former PLO attorney Jeff Haas

Truthout article published 12.04.2019: 50 Years Ago Today, Police Murdered Fred Hampton. His Activism Lives On.

Victory in Jail Death Case

This is a photo of Lyvita Gomes. She was arrested in 2011 for not appearing for jury duty and then resisting arrest. She spent 15 days in Lake County Jail (Illinois), not eating and not drinking.

Correct Care Solutions psychiatrist Hargarmukh Singh diagnosed her as psychotic and incompetent, and internist Rozel Elazegui ignored multiple signs of dehydration, but they did nothing.

Another physician finally sent her to hospital on day 15, in multiple organ failure and severely dehydrated, at death’s door.

She died a few days later, after the jail doctors allowed her to deteriorate such that she didn’t have a fighting chance. The coroner determined that she died from complications of starvation and dehydration.

On October 10, 2019, People’s Law Office attorneys Janine Hoft, Jan Susler, John Stainthorp and Christian Snow obtained a verdict in federal court, when a jury found that the internist and psychiatrist failed to provide her with adequate medical care and failed to protect her, and awarded her estate $2,761,410.

This tragic case is part of our office’s continued commitment to fight for the rights of people in prisons, jails and detention.

Lyvita Gomes, died in Lake County Jail
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

People’s Law Office Settles Multimillion-Dollar Jail Death Lawsuit

The People’s Law Office filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Richard J. Gonzalez’s estate in 2013, naming Ford County IL, its sheriff and four corrections officers for failing to provide proper medical treatment to Mr. Gonzalez, who later was found dead in his cell, and for lying about the timing of his death. Click here to read more about the case and settlement.

Pressure Mounts for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to Fund Torture Justice Memorial.

For over a quarter century the People’s Law Office has helped expose and represent people tortured under former police Cmdr. Jon Burge. Recently, the artist and activist-led collective, Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CTJM) selected a design for a public memorial to honor the Burge torture survivors. The memorial is called Breath, Form & Freedom. It was designed by Chicago artists Patricia Nguyen and architectural designer John Lee.

“Breath, Form and Freedom” is a 1600 square foot structure with a winding hallway that is twelve feet wide and features the names and dates of survivors tortured by Jon Burge and his police in his Midnight crew. Click here to read more about the memorial and the process of choosing it.

While most of the historic reparations legislation package has been implemented Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to provide funding for the public memorial. Now CTJM is calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to fund the construction of the memorial.

In an article published by the Chicago Tribune today, People’s Law Office attorney and co-founder of CTJM, Joey Mogul said “There is no better way in my opinion to name racism … than the city of Chicago building a memorial about these racially motivated police torture cases.” You can read the entire article here.