Aldermen want reparations for Burge torture victims

October 16, 2013

Alex Keefe

Attorney Joey Mogul, who has represented Burge victims, says there could be 30 or 40 alleged victims who might be eligible for reparations. He spoke at Wednesday's press conference.

Victims of torture at the hands of Chicago police under former Commander Jon Burge would receive reparation payments, free counseling and community college classes, and a formal city apology, under a proposal introduced to the City Council on Wednesday.

The ordinance would set aside $20 million to pay for those services to criminal suspects who were allegedly tortured by Burge and cops under his command on the South Side between 1972 and 1991.

The city has already paid about $84 million in settlements and legal fees stemming from the police torture scandal, according to the city law department. But there still could be 30 or 40 alleged victims who might be eligible for reparations, said Joey Mogul, an attorney who has represented Burge victims.

Anthony Holmes is one of them.

Holmes, now 57, spent three decades in prison after confessing to a 1973 murder he said he didn’t commit. Holmes gave his confession only after being repeatedly suffocated and electrically shocked by Burge during an interrogation, Mogul said.

“And what hurt me the most is the fact that I couldn’t do nothing about it,” Holmes told reporters Wednesday. “You know, I was handcuffed and everything. And even if I coulda fought, I woulda felt better. But what good what it do?”

Holmes, who once went by the nickname “Satan,” was one of the first victims to allege being tortured by Burge. He testified at Burge’s federal trial in 2010. The former police commander is now serving a 4 and a half year prison sentence for lying to investigators about the abuse.

Holmes was released in 2004, but has had a hard time getting back on his feet. He now delivers newspapers for a living, and does not have health insurance, according to his lawyers.

“I live with this nightmare every day, every night,” Holmes said. “My family, they suffer from it, too, because they know what I went through.”

Under the proposal, introduced by 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno and 21st Ward Ald. Howard Brookins, reparation money to torture victims would be awarded by a newly-formed city committee. The ordinance would also require the city to issue a formal apology for the torture, and it would mandate history lessons about the decades-long scandal in Chicago Public Schools.

Victims, whose claims would be vetted by the committee, would also get counseling, health care and job training a new community center on the South Side, where most of the alleged torture took place. The ordinance would also provide the victims and their family free tuition at the city’s community colleges.

It’s unclear where the $20 million funding would come from, although Brookins suggested dipping into revenues from the city’s new network of speed cameras.

“Let’s remember that we set aside millions - tens of millions - of dollars every year to settle these cases and to pay attorneys,” Moreno said Wednesday. “I think $20 million is fair if we look at what we’re setting aside.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized to Burge torture victims at last month’s City Council meeting, when aldermen approved another set of multi-million dollar lawsuits relating to the scandal.

The mayor didn’t speak to reporters after Wednesday’s City Council meeting, and his office did respond to a request for comment regarding the reparations ordinance.

Alex Keefe covers politics for WBEZ. Follow him @akeefe.