John Vergara said in 2011 masked police suddenly rushed the Humboldt Park restaurant where he’d stopped in for coffee. He and a few other men were cuffed and taken to Homan Square on the city’s West Side.
“They insisted we knew something, but they just kept us there for hours, chained to the wall, to each other and to the wall. I still don’t even know what I was there for,” he said.
At the time, Vergara didn’t know the other men with him in custody. He said police refused requests for legal counsel, bathroom facilities and food. He said the cops tried to coerce the men into false confession.
Eventually, one man in the group was officially arrested. Vergara said the situation changed when he mentioned attorney Blake Horwitz.
“The whole demeanor of the police officers started to change. They started being a little more polite, and a little more scared about knowing that I knew Blake,” he said.
Vergara said he and the other men were eventually able to leave, but not before the police threatened them if they didn’t keep quiet.
Vergara and two other men, Carlos Ruiz and Jose Garcia, came forward after a recent article in the The Guardian questioning police actions at Homan Square. On behalf of these men, attorney Blake Horwitz filed a lawsuit against four police officers and the City of Chicago.
Horwitz said these practices could happen anywhere, but said there’s something particular about Homan Square, where people are taken off the grid.
“There’s a pattern that people experience where they’re there for long periods of time and they’re not given a right to an attorney,” he said.
Horwitz said it’s not a matter of shutting down the facility, but that police practices need to change.
A statement from the Chicago Police Department said it abides by all laws and guidelines related to interviews of suspects and witnesses at Homan Square and any other CPD facility.
The city’s law department said it’s reviewing the lawsuit and intends to “vigorously defend against it.”
The department notes police recovered 180 grams of cocaine, along with cash, during the incident. It said the case should be dismissed on legal grounds.
Susie An is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @soosieon.