The author of the first government report to document a pattern of torture under former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge is headed to court on Tuesday to defend the credibility of his investigation and findings.
Michael Goldston’s report was ruled inadmissible last month by Cook County Associate Judge Neera Walsh. Her ruling excludes the report from evidence in a torture claim brought by James Gibson, who is trying to get his 25-year-old murder conviction overturned.
An Illinois commission backed Gibson’s claim that Area 3 detectives under Burge’s supervision tortured him into providing a statement that located him near the murder.
Goldston wrote the report in 1990 as an investigator with what was then the police department’s Office of Professional Standards. The report did not mention Gibson’s case but listed dozens of other alleged torture victims and the names of detectives accused of carrying out the abuse. Goldston found that “command members were aware of the systematic abuse and perpetuated it.”
The Goldston report remained hidden from the public until a judge ordered its release in 1992, leading to Burge’s firing in 1993. The statute of limitations for criminal charges against Burge eventually ran out but he was convicted in 2010 of lying about the torture and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in federal prison. Burge was released from prison in 2014 and from home confinement last year.
The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, a state panel set up to investigate police-torture claims, last year found “sufficient credible evidence” for a judicial review of Gibson’s claim.
In March, Walsh began an evidentiary hearing about whether Gibson was tortured. The hearing could lead her to order a new trial.
Walsh’s ruling to exclude Goldston’s report from evidence came in a June 15 session of the hearing. She also threw out a 2006 report about Burge authored by special prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle.
At the June 15 session, Brian Stefanich, an assistant special prosecutor in the Gibson case, characterized the Goldston and Egan reports as “improper opinions about whether torture has occurred.”
“These documents are hearsay,” Stefanich argued. “They’re relying on what other people said in coming to their conclusions.”
In an interview, Gibson attorney Joel Brodsky likened Stefanich’s argument to denying that torture under Burge took place at all.
“Prosecutors don’t just have a duty to win their case,” Brodsky said. “They have a duty to see that justice is done.”
Judges in other Burge-related post-conviction cases, at both the Cook County and appellate levels, have allowed the Goldston and Egan reports as evidence. Experts on Illinois rules of evidence point out that a hearsay ban does not apply to post-conviction cases.
“That’s for a reason,” said Locke Bowman, director of Northwestern University’s MacArthur Justice Center. “Judges in post-conviction cases are supposed to be alert to claims of constitutionality without [getting ensnared] in evidentiary technicalities.”
Stefanich serves under Stuart Nudelman, a former judge appointed to be special prosecutor for Burge-linked post-conviction cases because of potential conflicts of interest involving the state’s attorney’s office, which prosecuted questionable cases assembled by Burge and his detectives.
WBEZ asked Stefanich and Nudelman how keeping the Goldston and Egan reports out of Gibson’s case would serve the public.
The response came from another assistant special prosecutor, Myles O’Rourke. “There are reasons why we’re doing what we’re doing,” O’Rourke said, promising those reasons would be apparent at Tuesday’s hearing.
Walsh, through a court spokesperson, declined to explain why she ruled the reports inadmissible.
Brodsky said the ruling led him to call in Goldston, whose unit was moved out of the police department in 2007 and renamed the Independent Police Review Authority. Goldston remains an investigator there.
The murder took place the morning of December 22, 1989, outside an automobile-repair garage on 5757 S. May St. The victims were insurance agent Lloyd Benjamin and his client Hunter Wash, who owned the garage.
Gibson, 23 at the time, gave the detectives an inculpatory statement on December 30 after three days of detention without charges at the Area 3 station. The statement put him near the garage around the time of the murder. The detectives released Gibson, who then filed a police complaint alleging they had beaten him in custody.
“Gibson maintained his claim of physical abuse to his public defender and doctors after his arrest, and contemporaneous pictures of him depict a swollen, bruised ribcage,” the commission found.
A co-defendant, Eric Johnson, 19, was arrested during Gibson’s detention and later claimed the same detectives tortured him into a confession. Gibson, according to the confession, paid Johnson to act as a lookout while Gibson robbed Benjamin.
Gibson was arrested again and eventually convicted of the shooting. The conviction stemmed mainly from his December 30 statement in police custody, according to the commission.
“The commission is not finding that Gibson is likely innocent,” the panel’s report says. “Nevertheless, the commission finds that concerns about Gibson’s credibility in general are outweighed by the contemporaneous evidence corroborating Gibson’s [torture] claim.”
In 2013, Johnson negotiated a plea agreement that allowed his release. Under the deal, Johnson did not contest the allegations in one of the murder charges.