The Torture of Darrell Cannon: A Case that the City of Chicago Cannot Win
By Flint Taylor, People’s Law Office
On November 2, 1983 three charter members of Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s torture crew took African American murder suspect Darrell Cannon to an isolated area on the South Side of Chicago and tortured him. They repeatedly pressed an electric cattle prod to his testicles. They allowed him to believe they had loaded a shotgun, rammed it into his mouth, and pulled the trigger, repeating this mock execution three times. They tried to lift him off the ground by the handcuffs that secured his hands behind his back. At another location, they drove the cattle prod into his mouth. They beat him with a police flashlight.1 Eventually, Cannon succumbed and falsely confessed to participating in the murder. Thus started a twenty-nine year legal odyssey that continues to this day and presents the City of Chicago with a case that it cannot win.
Cannon’s false confession led to his conviction for murder and a life sentence. He won a reversal of the conviction, but he was again convicted at a second trial. On appeal, Cannon’s lawyers informed the court of 28 newly discovered cases of torture and abuse by the same Burge henchmen who had tortured Cannon, and the Court issued a landmark decision granting Cannon a new hearing at which he could use this evidence to show that his confession was tortured from him.2 The case was again returned to the trial court, and, after a protracted evidentiary hearing that focused on the pattern and practice of police torture, the State of Illinois dismissed Cannon’s case in 2004. After another lengthy legal battle, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board finally rescinded a parole hold that was premised on the dismissed murder conviction and Cannon was released from prison in 2007 – – 24 years after he was wrongfully convicted.
In 1986, while ensconced in the bowels of the Illinois prison system, Cannon had sought to vindicate his constitutional rights in Federal Court. He filed a handwritten complaint alleging that he was tortured and seeking money damages from his torturers. Unbeknownst to him, his court appointed lawyer, and the public at large, his torture was part and parcel of a widespread secret pattern and practice that was spearheaded by Burge and implemented by the crew of detectives who tortured him. As a result of this ignorance, in 1988, well before the newly discovered evidence of torture had surfaced, Cannon accepted the City of Chicago’s offer of a nuisance value settlement of $3000, of which he netted $1247.
After Cannon was exonerated in 2004, he filed a new suit in Federal Court, seeking damages for the more than two decades of wrongful imprisonment that he suffered as a result of his tortured confession. In this suit, he described the decades-long conspiracy to cover-up by high level Chicago and Cook County officials, and added Burge, a series of police superintendents, as well as the City itself, as newly named defendants who had not been named in the original suit. The City and the police defendants moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that the 1988 settlement agreement barred Cannon from pursuing further compensation against any and all City officials. In 2006, the trial Judge rejected this argument, ruling that the massive conspiracy to cover-up the torture constituted a fraud by the police defendants and the City which thereby rendered the 1988 settlement a nullity.3
In 2007, the Chicago City Council held hearings on the Burge torture scandal, with a special emphasis on ending the City financed defense of Burge in five pending civil damages cases, including Cannon’s. Several Council members publicly called on Mayor Richard M. Daley and the City’s legal department to settle all of the outstanding torture cases, including Cannon’s. In response, the City settled four of the five cases for a total of $19.8 million, but refused to offer a nickel to Cannon, arguing that he was not entitled to a second bite of the apple. Instead of settling, the City poured $1.75 million in legal fees into further contesting Cannon’s case, and in 2011 its lawyers convinced the Judge to reverse her field and grant the City’s motion for summary judgment. In so doing, the Judge deemed the cover-up irrelevant to the issue of fraud because Cannon knew he had been tortured and therefore, in her view, was not deceived.4
Cannon appealed the decision, and on August 8, 2012 his lawyers from the People’s Law Office and the MacArthur Justice Center filed his brief in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.5 The appeal presents to the Court the fundamental question of whether Burge, his crew of now notorious “Asskickers,” and the entire City power structure can utilize their wholesale cover-up of the worst police scandal in the history of the City of Chicago to deprive a torture victim of his fair day in court and his right to reasonable compensation. Whatever the Court of Appeals decides, the City cannot win this battle in the court of public opinion, as its steadfast position in the Cannon case reaffirms, without question, that it continues to be on the side of the torturers rather than the tortured, preferring to spend millions to peddle the proposition that a torture victim’s suffering is worth $1247, regardless of the official fraud perpetrated on him, if he accepts the pittance.
Taylor is one of Darrell Cannon’s lawyers and a founding partner of the People’s Law Office. For more information on police torture visit the Chicago Police Torture page on this site.
1 Videos of Darrell Cannon can be viewed on this site on the Chicago Police Torture page
2 Decision in People v. Cannon,1997,
3 Decision Cannon v. Burge, 2006.
4 Decision Cannon v. Burge, 2011.
5 The brief can be viewed here: Darrell Cannon Appellate Brief