On February 22 federal magistrate Geraldine Soat Brown ruled that Mayor Richard Daley could at last be put on the hot seat: he would have to answer questions under oath about the Jon Burge torture scandal.
As readers of this paper know only too well, Burge and Chicago police detectives under his command abused suspects from the early 1970s until the early 1990s–suffocating them with plastic bags and typewriter covers, shocking them, and beating them. Daley was Cook County state’s attorney from 1981 to 1989, when the bulk of the torture took place. He was in a position to investigate and didn’t, setting an example his successors in the office have followed to the present day. No one knows how many were tortured, but more than 100 likely victims have been identified, and some are still behind bars on the basis of those suspect confessions. Lawyers representing five of the victims now have civil suits pending in federal court. Those suits led to Brown’s ruling.
“If they require me to be deposed, I have no problems with that,” Daley said at a news conference. But that was before the February 27 primary, when one of his challengers was urging voters to “say no to the Daley/Burge team.” After the election the city’s lawyers appealed Brown’s ruling to federal judge Marvin Aspen. They argued that questioning Daley under oath was “premature and may be unnecessary”–on the grounds that busy public officials like the mayor shouldn’t be compelled to testify until all other avenues of getting the desired information have been exhausted. Judge Aspen hasn’t set a date for when he’ll rule, but it’s likely to be in the next two weeks.
The mayor would have the public believe that he’s already been grilled on the subject. “I answered all those questions,” Daley said in February, referring to his interview with special prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle, who were appointed in 2002 by the chief judge of the criminal court to investigate the torture.
Egan and Boyle issued their final report last July. They concluded that torture had occurred, that it was too late to prosecute anyone, and that the state’s attorney’s office had demonstrated “a bit of slippage”–as Boyle put it at a news conference–in failing to do anything about it. “Slippage” was a remarkable understatement. As each victim was typically subjected to several acts of torture, by several officers, who then proceeded to lie about it multiple times at successive court hearings, the number of unprosecuted felonies committed by the Burge gang could exceed 3,000. (In each case, the officers involved might have been charged with aggravated assault, official misconduct, perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, compelling a confession by force, and intimidation.) Labeling this failure to charge anyone “slippage” was typical of the special prosecutors’ approach to their task. Egan and Boyle are former high-ranking attorneys in the state’s attorney’s office, and their enthusiasm for investigating Daley’s role might best be illustrated by the fact that they didn’t interview him under oath until June 12, 2006, when their report was virtually complete. They asked him about office procedures, personnel assignments, and only one of the more than 50 cases that occurred on his watch, the infamous Andrew Wilson case. Wilson killed two police officers on February 9, 1982. He emerged from Burge’s custody with a corneal abrasion, radiator burns on his chest, the imprint of alligator clips on his ears and nose, and the story that detectives had applied shock devices to his head, genitals, fingers, and back.
In the transcript of the Daley interview Boyle starts talking on page two and can’t seem to stop: he gives the mayor a refresher course in the history of the Wilson case, which Daley presided over both as state’s attorney (Wilson was tried twice on his watch) and later as mayor (Wilson’s civil suit against the city dragged on for years during his first two terms in office). Boyle finally reaches his first question on page seven.
The 49-page transcript has the special prosecutors asking Daley 81 questions and the mayor answering with variations on “I don’t recall” 20 times. Magistrate Brown described the transcript as containing “little useful information.” For some perspective, consider that when state’s attorney Richard Devine, who served as Daley’s first assistant, was questioned by lawyers for Burge victims last year, the transcript ran 574 pages without exhibits.
Dissatisfaction with the way the special prosecutor’s report dealt with the state’s attorney’s office under Daley was part of what led an alliance of legal and community groups last month to observe the fifth anniversary of Boyle and Egan’s appointment by calling for a new investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office.
Perhaps one day that office will be talking to Daley under oath. Much more likely is the possibility that Daley will have to submit to interrogation in the civil suits. Given that the mayor once said he was willing to answer questions, the Reader came up with 20 that his constituents might like to hear the answers to–questions not asked by Egan and Boyle. We e-mailed them to the mayor last week and followed up with more e-mail, phone calls, and a fax. He didn’t get back to us.
1. Last year special prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle concluded that about 74 men had been tortured at Areas Two and Three. These men were not named, but given the time span of the torture allegations it’s likely that most were tortured during your tenure as state’s attorney, from 1981 to 1989. If the special prosecutors were right, a relatively small group of policemen committed several thousand felonies on your watch. Yet not one officer was indicted. Did you ever suspect that your office was enabling criminal behavior? If you did harbor that suspicion, what action did you take? If you did not, what advice would you have for state’s attorney Richard Devine and other prosecutors regarding police misconduct and torture cases?
2. In 1982, when you were state’s attorney, Andrew Wilson’s confession that he’d killed two police officers was taken by Larry Hyman, supervisor of your Felony Review Unit. All prosecutors recognize that when taking a confession, they must ask if the statement is being given voluntarily, without coercion. But in this extremely important case, Hyman failed to ask that question, not only of Andrew Wilson but also of his brother Jackie, who also confessed to a role in the murders. In your years as state’s attorney, thousands of homicides were prosecuted. Can you name another instance in which a murder confession was given and this question was not asked?
3. Was anything said to Hyman by you or by anyone in your office about this failure? If so, what?
4. Felony review supervisor Hyman left the state’s attorney’s office less than three months after Wilson’s arrest. Was he asked to leave? If so, why and by whom?
5. William Kunkle, your first deputy at the time, has said he believed the drivers of the police wagon taking Andrew Wilson to Mercy Hospital after he confessed were the ones who assaulted him, not the detectives. If so, why were those two wagon men not charged and prosecuted?
6. According to state’s attorney Devine’s sworn testimony, you would review each case in which prosecutors wanted to seek the death penalty. From the outset there were red flags about Wilson’s confession: Hyman’s failure to ask the coercion question, the police lockup keeper’s refusal to accept Wilson after he emerged from Area Two with so many apparent injuries, the Mercy Hospital records, the Cook County Jail intake photos, the letter from Dr. John Raba, who examined Wilson soon after his arrival at the jail, and a letter from police superintendent Richard Brzeczek asking you for guidance on the matter. Later there would be photographs of alligator-clip-patterned scabs on Wilson’s ears and nose. With so much evidence of coercion, were you comfortable asking that this man be put to death?
7. Given the extreme and unusual nature of the treatment Andrew Wilson was alleging at Area Two–including electric shock devices used against him–did you or anyone else in the office ask the prosecutors who worked on Area Two cases if they’d heard accusations of torture there before? If not, why not?
8. In 1987, two years before you left the state’s attorney’s office, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned Andrew Wilson’s conviction, making specific mention of the injuries noted by the staff at Mercy Hospital. It’s highly unusual for the state Supreme Court to overturn the conviction of a cop killer. Yet even then you didn’t order an inquiry into the torture accusations. Why not?
9. In 1990, when you’d been mayor for more than a year, the police department’s Office of Professional Standards issued two reports on torture at Area Two, one concluding that Wilson had been tortured and the other that abuse including “planned torture” was systematic under Burge’s command. The city fought to keep those two OPS reports from the public eye but lost the battle. You said at the time that the reports’ findings were only allegations, but as time passed, the Police Board and the city’s law department came to the realization that the charges in those reports had merit. In February 1993 the Police Board fired Burge and in May 1995 the law department acknowledged that torture had occurred under Burge’s command.
One of those pivotal OPS documents, known informally as the “Goldston report,” named “players” (officers whose names turned up consistently in the 50 cases investigator Michael Goldston examined). Among those officers was Peter Dignan. Dignan has been accused of participating in the torture of a long list of suspects, torture that included multiple allegations of suffocation using a plastic bag or typewriter cover, electric shock, and beatings with a rubber hose and a flashlight, the target often being the suspect’s testicles, penis, and groin area. These accusations arose when you were state’s attorney.
In 1998, five years after Burge was fired and three years after the city’s law department formally acknowledged that torture had taken place, the police department gave Dignan a merit promotion to lieutenant, considerably improving his pension. What role did you play in approving that promotion?
10. Should that promotion have been made?
11. Did you or anyone else in your administration have any discussion with any city or county official regarding Dignan’s retirement in 2002 and his subsequent hiring by Cook County sheriff Michael Sheehan, as assistant chief of the fugitives unit, at a salary of $74,800?
12. You now acknowledge that torture took place, but in a recent deposition state’s attorney Devine said that even today he sees not one case in which there was sufficient evidence to conclude that police officers had been involved in physical coercion. How do you explain the extreme difference in your views?
13. In 2003 Governor Ryan pardoned four men who were prosecuted while you were state’s attorney. All said they were tortured into confessing to crimes they hadn’t committed and had served time on death row. You’ve resisted settling their civil suits, even though you admit that torture was common at Area Two. How do you explain this contradiction?
14. According to a motion filed in federal court recently by attorneys for three of the four men, Judge Marvin Aspen mediated a settlement agreement last November in which the city agreed to pay them $14.8 million and in exchange their lawyers agreed to certain noneconomic terms suggested by the city’s counsel, including that (a) they wouldn’t name you as a defendant “in a civil rights, obstruction of justice, and racketeering conspiracy” and that they would not seek a finding of liability and damages from you for your “alleged conspiratorial actions while serving as Cook County State’s Attorney”; (b) they wouldn’t ask you for a deposition in the three cases though they would continue to seek one from Mr. Devine and other Cook County officials; (c) they wouldn’t criticize you in any public statements made in connection with the settlement.
What was your role in imposing those terms?
15. Regardless of whether you had any role in imposing those terms, do you believe it is appropriate for the city to condition a settlement on terms and conditions that benefit you personally?
16. Could the case have been settled for less if the city had not asked the plaintiffs and their lawyers to accept the conditions favorable to yourself?
17. Although these terms were agreed to in November, the city now denies there was any such contract. This is not a believable claim. For one thing, the plaintiffs’ lawyers would have no reason to file a motion to enforce an agreement that they’d dreamed up, as they would have no chance of prevailing. For another, Judge Aspen is clearly exasperated. He’s said the city’s behavior was “unprecedented” in his years on the bench. Why did the city renege on the agreement?
18. In defending the city and individual police officers against those three civil suits, Chicago has paid about $5 million to seven law firms. Many litigation attorneys believe any case will be settled for much less if it is resolved early, before attorneys and clients spend substantial amounts of money and time in the prosecution and defense. Why didn’t the city settle the cases early on?
19. In your interview with the special prosecutors, you indicated you were not informed about crucial events that occurred after the arrest of Andrew Wilson. You indicated you were not informed of the actions and controversial decisions of assistant state’s attorney Larry Hyman, of the suspicions that the wagonmen had abused Wilson, and of the lockup keeper’s refusal to accept the injured Wilson. Would you say, then, that the supervisors immediately under you at the time, first assistant Richard Devine and first deputy William Kunkle, bear greater responsibility than you for failing to investigate and prosecute Commander Burge and the detectives in his torture ring?
20. In a statement to the press last July you said that the city “strongly supported” the release of the special prosecutor’s report because “the public has the right to know about this shameful episode in our history. No suspect should be subjected to the abuses detailed in the report.”
Yet perpetrators of this “shameful episode” remain on city and county payrolls, some in high-ranking supervisory positions. Some of them participated in the abuse; others remained silent while it took place. Many took the Fifth Amendment when questioned by the special prosecutors. Should these people still be on the public payroll?
John Conroy’s articles on torture and the Chicago Police Department are posted in a free archive at chicagoreader.com/policetorture.
Conroy can be reached at email@example.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Richard M. Daley photo/Scott Olson/Getty Images.