Former CPD Cmdr. Burge arrested

May 24, 2010 10:44:11 AM PDT
Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was arrested Tuesday at 6 a.m. He faces a federal indictment on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Burge was arrested at his home in Florida. Prosecutors charge that Burge lied when he said he and other detectives under his command did not torture murder suspects to obtain confessions decades ago.

This is a major development in a case that has been called a black eye on the City of Chicago. The case against former police commander Burge has lingered for nearly two decades. He was arrested Tuesday morning at his home in Apollo Beach, Florida, near Tampa.

Burge has been indicted on three federal counts - two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of perjury. He was arrested by FBI agents from Chicago and Tampa. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced the charges in Chicago.

"He has shamed his uniform and shamed his badge," Fitzgerald said in announcing the three-count indictment returned Tuesday in a case that has put a cloud over the police department for years. "And for his lies about torture and abuse, we intend to hold him accountable."

Five years ago, Madison Hobley, who did time for murder and was later pardoned, sued, alleging Burge put a bag over his head to force a confession.

Burge later signed a statement saying "I have never used any techniques as a means of improper coercion on suspects." That statement is the basis for the federal charges; it's the alleged lie. And the U.S. attorney made clear this case is closer to the beginning than the end.

"We have every reason to believe, as the indictment states, that others were involved in the torture and abuse and have reason to believe that others lied under oath. We intend to pursue that part of the investigation moving forward," Fitzgerald said.

It has been 15 years since Burge actually worked for the Chicago Police Department. He was fired in the early 1990s. The new charges are based on answers that he gave to a 2003 civil court deposition.

Authorities say Burge, now 60, obstructed that civil rights investigation because he knew about the alleged practice and pattern of torture when he was commander of Area 2, but he lied about it.

Burge and his underlings are accused of using electric shocks, suffocation and cattle prods, among other things, to coerce confessions out of dozens of victims, going back to the 1980s.

When asked Tuesday if the arrest came as a surprise to him, Burge answered, "I'm not at liberty to say anything, but yes it did."

Burge said he hadn't spoken to his attorney yet but planned to plead not guilty.

Last year, the City of Chicago settled the cases of four men for nearly $20 million. One of those men, who was freed from death row, was Leroy Orange. His case against Cook County has not yet been settled. In fact, there was a hearing at the federal courthouse Tuesday morning about that case.

"It's a wonderful day for all of those who are seeking justice in the torture cases and in the torture scandal. However, it's just one good day. It's not the end game. We need to have Burge not only arrested but in jail," said Flint Taylor, plaintiff attorney.

"This is definitely a day for justice. But I think we cannot forget there are still victims who are suffering from this torture that occurred. There are 25 men who are behind bars as a result of wrongful convictions based on their torture confessions. They need new hearings," said Joey Mogul, plaintiffs' attorney.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was Cook County state's attorney at the time the torture allegations took place. The mayor said Tuesday the police department should bear responsibility for Burge's alleged actions.

"The police department cleared him and they promoted him in the 1980s. I wasn't the mayor then. I was not the mayor then. And remember, unique cooperation of everybody involved when you investigate," said Mayor Daley.

Few in Chicago political circles will point the finger of blame at any one person, especially the mayor.

Alderman Freddrenna Lyle was a young defense attorney back then and said she remembers not being allowed to visit clients being questioned at Area 2 -- suspects who turned up as defendants in court a few days later.

"I think there was a lot of complicity, People turned the other way. They didn't want to jeopardize the relationship prosecutors had with police officers," said Lyle, 6th Ward. "It happened in the police station, and these young men would be presented in court two days later black and blue, eyes swollen. And no one was paying attention."

Over the years, Chicago taxpayers have spent $9.3 million on legal fees related to the torture allegations against Burge. Burge and other officers accused of being in the torture ring continue to collect $1.25 million in pension payments every year, according to attorneys who have worked on the abuse cases.

"We don't want Jon Burge to get one more penny from the City of Chicago. He's ripped us off all these years for nothing," said Ald. Ed Smith, 28th Ward.

A report by two special prosecutors appointed by the Cook County Circuit Court concluded two years ago that Chicago police tortured black suspects. But they said the actions were too old to warrant indictments. Tuesday's indictment gets around that fact by charging Burge with perjury and obstruction of justice, not with any actual cases of torture.

The two obstruction counts against Burge each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The perjury count carries up to five years. Each count also provides for a $250,000 fine.

"The county could have done it, but the county didn't do it. The feds did it because they're not constrained by the lack of political will that we see in the city of Chicago and the county," said Prof. Leonard Cavise, DePaul College of Law.

Several months ago, a number of Chicago police officers, somee of whom worked under Burge, were called before a federal grand jury. The U.S. attorney wouldn't discuss that or who might testify against Burge. But the feds say they are confident they'll be able to prove there was a system of torture, that Burge was part of it and that he lied about it.

The clock was ticking on this case. The statute of limitations on the perjury and obstruction charges against Burge run five years. The Hobley case, on which the charges are based, was filed five years ago next month.

Burge appeared Tuesday afternoon in court in Tampa, Fla., with a court-appointed attorney. The judge granted him a $250,000 bond. He was freed late Tuesday and pciked up by another former Chicago police officer and driven back to his home. Burge had to surrender his passport as well as several pistols and long guns that he has in his house as well. He is scheduled to appear in court Monday morning in Chicago. He will also be electronically monitored.

"Because he will have to travel back and forth to Chicago for court appearances and to visit with his attorney, it will be easier and given his history, there is no risk of flight, which is what electronic monitoring is for," said Dionja Dyer, federal public defender.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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