07/20/2006

Investigation: Chicago police tortured scores of black suspects

By DON BABWIN
Associated Press Writer

CHICAGO- For years, rumors persisted of a police unit that picked up black criminal suspects on the city's South Side and confined them to an interrogation room until they talked.

Some of the suspects were supposedly punched and smacked with a thick phone book. Others, the rumors said, were jolted by electric shocks or had typewriter covers pulled over their heads. Eventually, they confessed.

On Wednesday, prosecutors announced that many of the stories are true, but the cases are too old or too weak to prosecute anyone now.

Prosecutors Robert D. Boyle and Edward Egan _ appointed by a Cook County judge four years ago to look into torture allegations _ said they found evidence that police abused at least half the 148 suspects whose cases were reviewed. Nearly all of the suspects were black.

Among other things, the suspects claimed that police beat them, played mock Russian roulette, administered electric shocks with a cattle prod-like device and a crank-operated "black box," and threw typewriter covers over their heads to make them gasp for air.

The investigators were not able to substantiate all of the allegations, but made it clear they believed many of the claims, including the use of the black box on at least one man, and said that in the majority of cases, suspects were beaten with fists, feet or telephone books.

Boyle and Egan said that in only three cases involving a total of five former officers was there enough evidence to prosecute, but the three-year statute of limitations has run out.

"We only wish that we could indict on these three cases," Boyle said, after a $6.1 million investigation that involved more than 33,300 documents, the issuance of 217 grand jury subpoenas and interviews of more than 700 people.

Among those five officers was Jon Burge, a lieutenant who commanded a violent-crimes unit and the so-called "midnight crew" that allegedly participated in most of the alleged torture.

Neither Burge nor anyone else has ever been charged, but Burge was fired in 1991 after a police board found that a murder suspect was abused while in custody. Burge's attorney has said that Burge never tortured anyone.

In their 300-page report, the prosecutors accused then-police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek of dereliction of duty and said he and a former top official at the Cook County State's Attorney's office, William Kunkle, failed to pursue an investigation into allegations of torture.

"They can blame me for whatever they want to blame me for," Brzeczek said. "I know what I did was correct. It was not dereliction of duty."

Kunkle, now a Cook County circuit judge, was not available for comment, his staff said.

Mayor Richard M. Daley was the state's attorney during part of the period investigated, but Boyle dismissed any notion that Daley knew about the torture. Daley delegated responsibilities to other people in his office, and his only mistake was "perhaps relying on the judgment of others," Boyle said.

The Daley administration had no immediate comment.

The report goes into graphic detail about the torture of Andrew Wilson, the convicted murderer of two Chicago police officers. Wilson said that he was beaten and kicked during his interrogation, and that officers put a plastic bag over his head and burned his arm with a cigarette.

Then, he said, an officer pulled from a grocery bag a black box that had a crank on it. He said alligator clips were attached to his left ear and left nostril and he received a shock when an officer cranked the box. Burge, he said, also cranked the box to shock him and then put a gun in Wilson's mouth and clicked it.

The report said no black box was ever recovered. But the report makes it clear that there is ample evidence _ including burn marks on Wilson's nostril and ear _ that such a device was used.

Attorneys for the alleged torture victims called on Illinois' chief federal prosecutor to bring federal charges. But Boyle said the U.S. attorney has also concluded that the statute of limitations has run out.

Several people who claimed to have been abused by Chicago detectives have sued the city and the police department, and the report could bolster their cases. Attorney Locke Bowman of the MacArthur Justice Center said the City Council should pay for counseling for those who contend they were tortured.

"That is not where this matter should rest. That is not where it will rest," Bowman said.

Chicago Police Superintendent Phil Cline said the report does not reflect today's department. He said a new system videotapes all police interrogations of murder suspects and prevents the type of abuse detailed in the report.

The release of the report was the subject of a legal battle. The Illinois Supreme Court eventually denied a request from a former prosecutor, identified in court documents only as "John Doe," to block portions from being released.

In May, a U.N. anti-torture panel said the Chicago investigation needed to go further.

___

Associated Press Writers Sharon Cohen and Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report.

Related Articles:
Prosecutors find evidence of Chicago police torture in past, but can't indictAttorney: Chicago police torture report ready for releaseChicago police torture investigation needs to go further, panel saysInvestigators want to reveal names of Ill. cops who testified
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