By Frank Main February 12, 2001, Monday, Late Sports Final Edition Copyright 2001 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc. Chicago Sun-Times February 12, 2001, Monday, Late Sports Final Edition
(CHICAGO) -- police Lt. Peter Dignan was decorated for heroism after he rescued two detectives wounded in a shootout with a drug suspect in 1994 and killed the gunman.
Yet his career already was tarnished: He was accused a decade earlier of torturing murder suspect Darrell Cannon and another man.
Cannon was convicted of murder in the October 1983 shooting of a reputed drug dealer, but he claimed Dignan put an empty shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger three times to extract a confession. And he said Sgt. John Byrne shocked his genitals with a cattle prod.
Dignan, a 31-year veteran, has kept silent about the torture allegations for the past 17 years, except for his court testimony. But when Cannon dropped his torture claims in a plea agreement with the Cook County state's attorney's office last month, Dignan decided to tell his story.
"It never happened, never happened," he said in an interview on a day off. "I'm sure it didn't help my career."
The Jan. 19 plea agreement trimmed Cannon's life sentence for murder to a 40-year sentence on charges of armed violence and conspiracy to commit murder. The deal will let Cannon, 49, leave prison in less than three years, instead of serving for life.
The city previously settled a lawsuit Cannon filed against the police department for $ 3,000 -- a small amount given the nature of the allegations.
As part of his plea bargain, Cannon officially dropped his torture allegation. But he still asserts he was subjected to a "mock execution" after his November 1983 arrest, said one of his attorneys, Timothy Lohraff.
"The state made Darrell a deal he couldn't refuse," Lohraff said. "It was an agonizing decision for Darrell and us. He would have spent his life in prison. We feel the state was afraid of putting Dignan and Byrne on and letting us cross-examine them."
An investigator with the Office of Professional Standards sustained Cannon's claims, as well as the torture claims of murder suspect Gregory Banks in an arrest days earlier, but the police department did not move to fire Dignan. He is now a field lieutenant in the Prairie District on the South Side.
Dignan said Cannon's torture allegations were simply the last-ditch effort of a previously convicted killer and El Rukn general to get off the hook in the 1983 slaying of a drug dealer.
He disagrees with the prosecutors' decision to cut a deal with Cannon. He would have preferred to testify in an ongoing hearing over Cannon's request to suppress statements he gave police. But the deal shut the case.
"I don't think Darrell Cannon should ever hit the streets again," Dignan said, pointing to his lengthy record of violence that includes a conviction for the 1969 murder of a toy store owner, Emmanuel Lazar, 60, on the South Side. Cannon also alleged a police frame-up in that case.
More than 50 suspects, including Cannon, claim they were subjected to torture during interrogations under former Area 2 Lt. Jon Burge, with whom Dignan worked, Lohraff said.
Burge was fired in 1993 for denying convicted cop killer Andrew Wilson medical attention and for punching and kicking him. Dignan said he continues to consider Burge a friend, saying he was subjected to a "kangaroo court" by the Police Board that recommended his dismissal.
As for the claims Cannon made against him, Dignan admits he was carrying a shotgun when he and other detectives arrested Cannon about 7 a.m. on Nov. 2, 1983, at an apartment at 7445 S. Kingston in the slaying of a reputed drug dealer the previous month.
Dignan said he checked his shotgun into Area 2 headquarters before the alleged abuse occurred. He denied Cannon's claim that he was taken to a secret interrogation hideout near the 12400 block of Torrence where Dignan tortured him with a shotgun.
Dignan is accused of putting the gun behind his head, clicking twice, then forcing it into Cannon's mouth and squeezing the trigger again.
Cannon claimed Dignan pulled the shotgun from a leather case. Dignan said that was ludicrous because shotguns were stored on racks at Area 2 and officers did not carry them in cases.
Cannon helped Dignan and other detectives look for his alleged accomplice, riding with them to several addresses, but the search wasn't fruitful, Dignan said. Police don't think Cannon was the trigger man.
He led detectives to the site where the victim's body was dumped, Dignan said. Then they drove to an impoundment lot where he identified the car in which the shooting occurred and gave a statement implicating himself, Dignan said.
Byrne never stood on a bumper while pulling up Cannon by his handcuffs, as Cannon alleged, Dignan said. Such a maneuver would be physically impossible, especially because it was raining that morning and the bumper was slippery, he said.
In a statement to OPS, Cannon said Byrne couldn't keep his feet firmly on the bumper.
Jail officials did not report seeing any bruises or scratches on Cannon, Dignan added. A jail report quotes Cannon as saying he "states his health is good." Cannon said his lip was cut and knee bruised from the alleged torture. He told OPS that his lawyer at the time told him not to discuss the abuse.
Dignan also said he has never seen a cattle prod and none of the detectives in Area 2 used one on the day of Cannon's arrest. He pointed to Cannon's testimony in a March 27, 1984, hearing on a motion to suppress statements he gave detectives. His attorney asked if he had ever seen a cattle prod prior to his 1983 arrest and responded, "No, sir."
But a transcript of his testimony at his Oct. 26, 1994, trial, painted a different picture. He said he had seen a cattle prod before, and when the prosecutor asked him where, he said, "When I was a kid, on the farm."
When a prosecutor asked about conflicts in his testimony, he said: "Sir, back then the strategy during my suppression hearing was entirely different."
Still, his current attorney, Lohraff, said Cannon's testimony was "incredibly consistent." As for Cannon's killing the toy store owner in 1969, Lohraff said, "Almost all of the people they tortured were not angels or saints . . . Burge would say, 'Who are they going to believe? A guy like you or a guy like me?'"
Prosecutors said Burge was not connected to the Cannon interrogation.
Dignan said he hopes his account of the arrest will "clear the air."
"Enough is enough," he said. "We don't get hired to be anyone's punching bag...It has bothered my wife more than it bothered me. I know the facts."