Updated 4:30 p.m.
Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who was accused of torturing suspects in his South Side police district but was never prosecuted for the alleged crimes, has died, a Florida funeral home confirmed Wednesday. He was 70.
Burge led a “midnight crew” of rogue detectives accused of torturing more than 100 suspects, mostly black men, from 1972 to 1991.
His alleged victims were shocked with cattle prods and smothered with typewriter covers. Guns were shoved in their mouths. Burge was fired in 1993 and sentenced to prison in 2011 for lying in a civil case. It was too late to charge him criminally on the torture charges.
Sarah Zipperer of Zipperer’s Funeral Home in Ruskin, Florida, on Wednesday would confirm only that the business is handling his remains. She refused to give the cause or date of his death, citing the wishes of his family.
In 2015, the city of Chicago agreed to pay $5.5 million in reparations to 57 Burge victims. G. Flint Taylor, a civil rights attorney and lawyer for some of the men, estimates the price tag for all Burge-related cases is about $132 million.
Word of Burge’s death comes the week testimony began in the murder trial of white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald. The officer is accused of shooting McDonald 16 times as he walked away from police. It is considered one of the biggest trials in recent Chicago history. The possibility of such a trial would have seemed remote during Burge’s time on the force.
The allegations against Burge and his men even helped shape the state’s debate over the death penalty. Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan released four condemned men from death row in 2003 after Ryan said Burge extracted confessions from them using torture. The allegations of torture and coerced confessions eventually led to a moratorium on executions in Illinois. The state officially abolished the death penalty in 2011.
At Burge’s 2010 federal trial, prosecution witnesses told now familiar stories of abuse and torture. Burge’s lawyers called the accusers thugs and liars who were maligning an honorable man who had served in the U.S. military in Korea and Vietnam and returned with a Bronze Star. Burge took the stand and broke his long silence, repeatedly denying he had tortured anyone. A jury disagreed and found Burge guilty of perjury.
At his 2012 sentencing, one alleged victim claimed Burge was so cruel that he laughed while he tortured him. Burge told the judge that “while I try to keep a proud face, in reality, I am a broken man.”
Burge said he was “deeply sorry” for the disrepute his case had brought on the Chicago Police Department. He offered no apologies for his actions.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow cited Burge’s “unwillingness to acknowledge the truth in the face of all the evidence” and sentenced him to 4 1/2 years in prison.