06/11/2010

Former gang member says Chi. cop suffocated him

Lt. Jon Burge allegedly strangled the man repeatedly with a plastic bag

By Karen Hawkins
The Associated Press

CHICAGO — A former gang member testified Thursday at a former Chicago police official's perjury trial that he will never forget the detective who repeatedly suffocated him with a plastic bag more than 25 years ago.

Gregory Banks, 46, testified in the federal trial of former police Lt. Jon Burge on charges perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Burge is accused of lying in a civil lawsuit when he denied knowing about or participating in the torture of suspects.

Burge didn't participate in Banks' torture, the former gang member said, but he may have looked in while it was happening.

Banks said he was tortured by officers who questioned him in October 1983 about a homicide.

When he denied having anything to do with the case, Sgt. John Byrne "pulled out a nickel-plated .45 and put it in my mouth," Banks said. He said he was also hit across the chest with a flashlight and knocked to the floor, where he said Det. Charles Grunhard kicked him repeatedly.

Then a detective he later learned was Peter Dignan - whom he said he'll "never forget" - put a plastic bag over his head, Banks said.

"I couldn't breathe," he said. "I was handcuffed, so there was nothing I could do."

He eventually signed a written confession, which an appeals court later ruled had been coerced. His murder conviction was overturned, and he won a civil judgment against the city of Chicago over abuse by police. None of the officers have ever been charged in connection with his mistreatment.

Byrne, Grunhard and Dignan have denied accusations of abuse in previous sworn testimony.

Banks, who has eight burglary-related convictions, said he was a member of the Black Gangster Disciples for about 20 years, until 1990. He also acknowledged being addicted to heroin but said he's been sober for four years. He's currently studying to become a substance abuse counselor.

Banks said Burge "peeked in" to the interview room where he was being held several times, but he couldn't remember whether Burge had seen him being abused.

Burge defense attorney William Gamboney hammered away at Banks on cross-examination, providing some of the trial's most dramatic moments.

As Gamboney repeatedly pushed him about his role in the homicide, Banks angrily declared, "Remember this, I'm not on trial," drawing applause from some courtroom observers.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow later admonished those in the courtroom not to react to any testimony.

Federal prosecutors are expected to wrap up their case next week.

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