CPD, Burge, & Current Interrogation Practices

The news this week that former Police Commander Jon Burge has been indicted on federal charges nearly thirty years after the alleged crimes is very important.  This long overdue prosecution exposes the striking, continuous, and deliberate refusal by the accountability departments within the agencies, policy makers, the media, and the courts, to focus their attention on what occurs inside Chicago Police interrogation rooms. The reporting of the indictment relies on retrospective coverage of the abuse that occurred at the hands of the Chicago Police Department.  However, the discussion fails to evaluate if Burge’s tactics are part of history or if they have only been refined for modern use.

Recognizing Ongoing and Persistent Dangers

We know looking at ongoing civil litigation that abuse at within interrogation rooms is ongoing & persistent.  It is time for accountability departments within the agencies to recognize torture when it occurs and for policy makers, the courts, and the media to catch up on the state of the art in coercive interrogation tactics.  Sleep deprivation and holding suspects incommunicado for days have replaced the electric shock box used by Burge and his cronies.  The case study below demonstrates from ongoing litigation that coercive interrogation tactics continue to be used on a regular basis.  Hoping for politicians to stop the practice is fruitless, as Chicago history and present political leaders have demonstrated over the last thirty years.

Political careers have been made off the results of tortured confessions so public attention to these issues will be required to improve policing practices. Journalists like Mark Brown at the Sun Times and John Kass at the Chicago Tribune need to start focusing on what occurs today, as you read this, within the interrogation rooms of our police department.  There is no oversight within the structure of the Independent Police Review Authority or the Chicago Police Board to audit Chicago Police Records.  No one verifies that they are not holding suspects past legal requirements and/or using psychological torture tactics within the initial 48 hours to coerce confessions.

We are once again in Chicago operating under a “trust us” structure that leads to abuse and torture. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald hosted a press conference to announce Burge’s indictment. The most significant thing he said was his choice to employ the word “torture” to describe Burge’s action – a word we have not heard from another single policy maker, political figure, criminal justice official, or cook county judge in all the thirty years of this saga.

Since 911, our concept of torture has been skewed by efforts to alter a long-standing internationally agreed upon definition. We must work to reinforce our definitions of torture, internationally, nationally and locally.  If we continue to use the new definition we are going to find ourselves repeating past mistakes. Under the new definition of torture, tactics used by the Chicago Police Department are not only legal, but also encouraged.  We must understand that psychological torture tactics are not just as bad a physical torture tactics, they are worse.

Psychological torture tactics are far more insidious to the criminal justice system because there are no physical scars from physiological torture.  It is impossible to understand how for twenty years Cook County Criminal Court Judges could have possible missed the overt signs of physical torture in their courtrooms.  History provides no encouraging evidence that the ability of similarly situated judges in Cook County will have the ability to detect the results of psychological torture in their courtrooms. The Lopez case study demonstrates that the current state of the art coercive tactics being deployed in police interrogation rooms in Chicago are psychological.  The federal courts have shown it is beyond their power to stop these tactics being widely throughout the Department’s detective division.

Coercive interrogation tactics have been at the heart of interrogation in Chicago for the greater part of the last 100 years.  Joseph Lopez’ illegal detention case and resulting class action case are examples of the lengths the Chicago Police Department will go to keep the practices in use, despite the financial losses in civil litigation.  This case study is an excerpt of a five part series I wrote on this civil litigation.  You can find these series here:  Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V.

Case Study:

Litigation resulting from abuse perpetrated on the body and mind of Joseph Lopez (Joseph Lopez v. City of Chicago, and Chicago Police Detectives Jennifer Belafonte, Daniel Jacons, and Hector Vergara, 01CV182) by Chicago Police during his 4 days of illegal detention and interrogation uncovered a twenty plus year pattern and practice within the Chicago Police Department of illegal detention of suspects on warrantless arrests. The Lopez case uncovered a practice within the Chicago Police Department of arresting young people of color without a warrant in case involving violent crimes.  The practice was codified in the general orders dating back at least to the mid-1970s and was called “holding suspects past court call”.  Also uncovered, as part of the Lopez litigation, was the fact that the CPD has lost a class action resulting from this practice in 1986, (Robinson v. City of Chicago 638 F. Supp 186 (N.D. Ill. 986)).

At that point the CPD had assured the federal appellate court of appeals that they had rewritten the general order that codified the practice and the practice was stopped.  The CPD benefited from the practice and was not about the end the practice without greater pressure.  The general order was never circulated within the department to notify officers that the previous general order was changed and thus the practice never stopped! Joseph Lopez, 18, was arrested on July 19th, 2000 without a warrant for the murder of 12-year-old Miguel DeLaRosa.  He was held for 4 days and nights in an interrogation room with the lights on all the time, cuffed to the wall most of the time.

At the end of the four days, Lopez falsely confessed to the murder, he was subsequently released weeks later when the real culprit was apprehended.  Lopez sued the CPD and, after much litigation, settled his suit; however, a separate class action suit was born from the discovery process involved in Lopez’s suit, the Thomas Dunn case.  (Dunn Complaint 04-CV-06804) The Dunn case was certified as a class action on October 5, 2005.  On the day Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard retired, August 15, 2003, he circulated the general order that had been rewritten almost twenty years earlier as a result of the Robinson case.  The date of certification of the Dunn case is important because of the date structure of the third class certified in the case.

Class III: All persons arrested on suspicion of a felony without an arrest warrant and who were detained by the CPD in excess of 48 hours without a judicial probable cause hearing any time from March 15th until the date of certification.

If we examine the date Hillard circulated the general order, August 15, 2003, and the date of the certification, October 5, 2005, we see that even after the general order was circulated the practice did not stop because the judge included in third class cases that occurred after the date Hillard circulated the general order. The Lopez case has received little to no media attention and no attention from policy makers, accountability departments within the criminal justice agencies, or the courts.  To my knowledge, not a single case in Cook County criminal court has had a confession tossed because of an illegal detention. For all the bellowing about the fact that more should have been done twenty years ago to stop Burge, nothing is being done to stop the illegal and abusive tactics of today.  Neither the Independent Police Review Authority nor the Chicago Police Board is equipped either financially or with the necessary political power to gain the access they would need track this abuse.  With policy makers continuing to pay the same attention to this issue they have Burge over the last thirty years we are left with no options.  Psychological torture will continue to be the rule rather than the exception within police interrogation rooms in Chicago.

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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