innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Police Abuse Escapes Prosecution

This article ran in the NY Times on Thursday, July 20, 2006.

Inquiry Finds Police Abuse, but Says Law Bars Trials

Published: July 20, 2006
CHICAGO, July 19 — Special prosecutors said Wednesday that scores of criminal suspects were routinely brutalized by police officers on the South Side of Chicago in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but that extensive legal research persuaded them there was no way to skirt the statute of limitations preventing prosecution.

After four years, more than 700 interviews and $6 million, the prosecutors said they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court at least three cases of torture by the police, involving five former officers, and that they had found credible evidence of abuse in about half the 148 complaints they thoroughly investigated. But they rejected arguments by lawyers for people alleging abuse who said criminal charges could still be filed.

“We want to make it really clear, we only wish we could indict in these three cases,” Robert D. Boyle, the chief deputy special state’s attorney, said at a morning news conference downtown.
But Flint Taylor, a lawyer who represents some plaintiffs in abuse cases against the police, likened the situation to Ku Klux Klan killings in the 1960’s that have led to prosecutions in recent years. “Something as serious as police torture, there shouldn’t be a statute of limitations,” Mr. Taylor said. “It’s like murder.”

The prosecutors’ long-awaited 292-page report tries to provide closure on a painful chapter in Chicago history, one that has helped create a chasm between black residents and white police leaders, has driven changes in law enforcement procedures and has played a critical role in the national debate over the death penalty. In May, the United Nations Committee Against Torture highlighted the Chicago abuse accusations, complaining of “limited investigation and lack of prosecution.”

The political implications were clear from the roster of people questioned in the inquiry, including Mayor Richard M. Daley, who was Cook County’s top prosecutor when some of the most egregious complaints were lodged, and his former assistant, Richard A. Devine, now the Cook County state’s attorney.

Mr. Boyle rebuked a former Chicago police superintendent, Richard J. Brzeczek, saying he “did not just do his job poorly; he just didn’t do his job.” But he had only mild criticism for Mr. Daley, who as prosecutor received a letter alleging serious abuse in 1982 but delegated its investigation. “We accept his explanation, but would not do it the same way he did,” Mr. Boyle said of Mr. Daley.

A few prisoners had cattle prods placed against their genitals, guns shoved into their mouths or plastic typewriter covers held over their heads until they passed out, Mr. Boyle said, adding that most were abused with milder weapons like “the fist, the feet, telephone books.”

Prisoners who have alleged torture and their lawyers said they were profoundly disappointed with the report and that Mr. Daley and Mr. Devine should face federal indictment along with former Commander Jon Burge, whom they accuse of overseeing torture, and some officers under his command at what are known as Detective Areas 2 and 3. They cited at least recent 20 instances of court testimony by police officers, prosecutors and other officials that they said constituted continuing criminal behavior that would justify charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, racketeering and civil rights violations.

“Somebody needs to go to jail,” said one of the lawyers, Lawrence Kennon. “Burge needs to go to jail. His henchmen need to go to jail. The mayor should be indicted for covering up.”

For the whole story, click here.


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