Family sues city of Chicago for wrongful death

Mother wants details about son’s suicide while he was held at Area 2

December 28, 2011

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(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
Annie Bradford, center, flanked by her attorneys, activists and Illinois Congressman Danny Davis.

The family of a man who allegedly committed suicide while in police custody is suing the city of Chicago for wrongful death.

On Nov. 17, Develt Bradford was found hanging while detained at Area 2 of the Chicago Police Department. Three days later, another detainee, Melvin Woods, was found hanging in his cell at the same police station.

Bradford’s family has a fusillade of questions and, on Tuesday, filed a civil lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

“If the Chicago police did no wrong, let’s find that out. But let’s have an independent authority,” said Sam Adam Jr., the Bradford family attorney. “What we do not need is 15 years from now to be readdressing this like we had to do with Jon Burge.”

The backdrop is that Area 2 used to be under the watch of Jon Burge. A federal jury convicted the former police commander of lying about decades of torturing black men. Bradford and Woods are black. At a press conference Wednesday, Bradford family attorneys sought to make the connection.

Annie Bradford, the mother of Develt Bradford, choked back tears.

“I’m very sad. I’m very disappointed in the way that my son had to go. I just want to know what really happened,” Bradford said.

Adam’s law firm sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald asking that his office investigate the two alleged suicides.

“When a family member calls me with a tremor in her voice … can you help us to find out what happened in this situation?” said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago), who flanked attorneys at the press conference. “Then of course, I have no choice except to call upon the highest level of legal investigatorial (sic) authority in the country — and that is the U.S. Attorney’s Office — to conduct its own independent investigation.”

Attorney Victor Henderson said there are too many unanswered questions about Bradford and Woods’ deaths. He said an internal police investigation is not good enough, given the Burge history at Area 2.

“Why were the cameras off? How long were they in custody? Let’s see the clothes that they allegedly hung themselves (with). Let’s have some forensic tests, have some blood tests,” Henderson said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. The Chicago Police Department gave this statement: “The Chicago Police Department takes the treatment of its arrestees very seriously. The incidents that occurred at Area 2 are currently under investigation by the Independent Police Review Authority.”