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Ex Cop Faces Torture Charges

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Ex Cop Faces Torture Charges

Protesters outside Cook County Courthouse in 2006. (AP/M. Spencer Green)

A former Chicago police commander, who long has been accused of brutally abusing and torturing African-American criminal suspects is now facing charges. The FBI arrested former Chicago police lieutenant Jon Burge at his home in Florida this morning. He’s charged with lying about the torture of suspects. NPR’s David Schaper reports.

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For decades, criminal suspects on Chicago’s South Side complained they’d been beaten with telephone books, burned with cigarettes, nearly suffocated with plastic typewriter covers-even subjected to electric shock-while being interrogated by detectives in the police district known as Area 2.

At the center of those allegations is Jon Burge, who became a detective in Area 2 in 1972 and later supervised detectives there through much of the 1980s. The Chicago police department fired Burge in 1993. In 2003, Former Illinois Governor George Ryan found evidence of torture-coerced confessions compelling enough to pardon four men from death row. And in 2006, special state prosecutors concluded that more than 100 suspects, almost all of them black men, had been tortured and abused in Area 2 under Burge, but that too much time had passed to file charges.

All the while, the now 60-year old Burge has been living comfortably in Florida on a Chicago police pension, without facing criminal charges, until today.

FITZGERALD: Jon Burge shamed his uniform and shamed his badge.

Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

FITZGERALD: According to the indictment, former commander Burge, while working in Area 2 as a detective, later a sergeant, and then a lieutenant, participated in and witnessed the abuse of people in police custody.

But just as the special prosecutors found, Fitzgerald says the statute of limitations has run out on the alleged acts of brutality and torture. So a grand jury has handed up an indictment charging Burge with three counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, for allegedly lying about the abuse in a civil lawsuit in 2003.

Fitzgerald says his office only started investigating Burge a couple of years ago, when given the special prosecutors’ report, but he makes no apologies for not being able to bring charges for torture and abuse.

FITZGERALD: If people commit multiple crimes and you can’t prosecute them for one, theres nothing wrong with prosecuting him for another. If Al Capone went down for taxes, that was better than him going down for nothing.

The charges against Burge are welcome and long overdue news to Flint Taylor, attorney with the People’s law office in Chicago. He represents some of the alleged victims of police brutality and says he is gratified that 22 years after bringing the first allegations of torture and cover-up Burge is finally charged.

TAYLOR: We are also aware that more investigation and more indictments must follow, because it wasn’t just Jon Burge, there was a series of detectives and sergeants under his command who also tortured in a serial manner and who have also lied under oath as Burge has.

Fitzgerald, too, says he has every reason to believe other Chicago law enforcement officials participated in torture and abuse and lied about it, or knew about it and covered it up and Fitzgerald says, they, too will still be prosecuted.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was the State’s Attorney during much of the time Burge allegedly tortured suspects and Taylor suggests he knew about it and did nothing, but Daley today again denied ever knowing about the torture allegations.

Burge’s attorney declines comment. He appeared in federal court in Tampa this afternoon and is due to be arraigned in Chicago November 27.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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