Asked how he was doing, Burge joked, “I never had a bad day in my life, though I’ve been know to fib occasionally.”
The Sun-Times is reporting that a federal probe into police torture in Chicago is “ramping up.” Back in 2003, it was determined that Burge and other detectives wouldn’t face criminal charges because the statute of limitations had expired. But as part of a lawsuit filed by pardoned ex-death row inmate Madison Hobley, Burge and other detectives declared that they had not tortured suspects–which opens them up for prosecution on the basis of obstruction of justice, if their written testimony is false.
And at least some of their claims to innocence almost certainly are. As John Conroy wrote in 2003: “This much is well-known: Detectives under the direction of Commander Jon Burge used torture–or, in the words of the city of Chicago’s own lawyers, “savage torture”–to get confessions from suspects. The pattern of complaints indicates that the method was first deployed in 1973. The last alleged incident was in 1991.”
And, from the same piece: “Though the [Police Board] had nothing to say about the conduct of the state’s attorney’s office, it did make clear its belief that Burge and men in his command had violated the law in the Wilson case and had probably used electric shock on Melvin Jones. Those officers had never been prosecuted. Daley had been state’s attorney at the time.
“Eventually the city’s lawyers would explicitly recognize that torture had occurred. For the better part of a decade, the corporation counsel’s office had denied this, but on March 28, 1994, with Wilson’s suit still in federal court, the same office sent Burge a letter telling him that his acts went beyond the scope of his employment. Much more certain of what had happened than the Police Board had been, the city’s lawyers would eventually characterize Wilson’s treatment as “savage torture” and acknowledge that Burge had shocked Melvin Jones on the genitals. This about-face was not the opening salvo of a campaign to bring justice to the victims and the perpetrators, but an attempt to save the city from paying damages to Andrew Wilson by repudiating Burge’s behavior as a violation of his duties.”
As the new probe gains momentum, John Conroy’s two decades of reporting on the scandal, collected here in a handy archive, will prove invaluable. The 2003 story linked above is a very good history, but I also recommend our Who’s Who and Conroy’s twenty questions for Mayor Daley, who was the state’s attorney when the bulk of the torture allegations took place, and despite being made aware of them never acted.
But in some ways the most interesting of Conroy’s pieces is “Tools of Torture,” a biographical piece about Burge that argues he learned to torture in Vietnam. Hopefully the subtext to me mentioning this piece is pretty clear.