Chicago Police Used Torture, Inquiry Says

Times Staff Writers

Special prosecutors released a report Wednesday saying that scores of criminal suspects were tortured by Chicago police in the 1970s and '80s, but noted that the officers could not be prosecuted because the three-year statute of limitations on the crimes had run out.

The $6-million investigation -- which began more than four years ago and involved hundreds of subpoenas and tens of thousands of documents -- found credible evidence in at least half of the 148 complaints that police had beaten, shocked, tried to suffocate or played mock Russian roulette with suspects in an effort to get confessions.

Most of the suspects were African American. Many lived on the city's South Side.

Prosecutors said that in at least three cases, which involved five officers who have either retired or been fired, enough evidence was found to prove the complaints in court and get a conviction.

But the prosecutors, in the report and at a news conference Wednesday, insisted there was no broader conspiracy that delayed the investigation to avoid filing criminal charges.

"We only wish we could indict in these three cases," Robert D. Boyle, the chief deputy special state's attorney, said at the news conference.

The report, at nearly 300 pages, supports allegations of mistreatment that have created a deep sense of distrust between black residents and white police officers here. Previously, concern over the allegations prompted City Hall and local law enforcement to overhaul police procedures.

The Police Department now focuses more on community policing and has digitally recorded its homicide interrogations since last July.

"This has been a disgraceful episode in Chicago's history," said Alderman Toni Preckwinkle. "These allegations were circulating for a very long time before there was any investigation."

Scores of people who said they were victimized and their lawyers reacted with dismay to the report's finding that the officers could not be prosecuted.

Five people alleging police brutality have filed federal civil cases, and more than two dozen prisoners are challenging their convictions based on their claims of abuse. In May, a United Nations panel pushed for the Chicago investigation to delve deeper.

Prosecutors said one of the three cases in which officers could have been indicted involved the treatment of Andrew Wilson.

Wilson was arrested in 1982 on charges of killing two police officers.

He said detectives kicked him, forced him to stretch out over a radiator while being beaten, shocked him with an electronic device and "put a plastic bag over his head and burned him on the arm with a cigarette."

Former police Lt. Jon Burge, who supervised the officers, also "put a gun in Wilson's mouth and clicked it," the report said.

"Burge told Wilson that he would not be mistreated again if he confessed to the murders. Wilson agreed to make the statement."

Wilson was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but his conviction was later reversed by the Illinois Supreme Court, which ruled that his confession should not have been used because prosecutors hadn't adequately explained how he had "suffered certain injuries while in police custody," the report said.

Wilson received a new trial. He was again convicted, but sentenced to life imprisonment.

Neither Burge nor the other officers alleged to have mistreated Wilson have been charged with a crime.

However, Burge was fired in 1993 after an internal department investigation found that torture was commonly used when he was a supervisor.

Burge's lawyer said his client was not guilty.

The prosecutors, appointed by a Cook County judge, interviewed at least 700 people, including Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who was the Cook County state's attorney when some of the complaints were made.

Daley, who was out of town Wednesday, declined to comment on the report.

Mara Georges, the city's corporation counsel, released a statement saying city officials are "in the process of thoroughly reviewing it and will comment on the report upon the completion of our review."

The report also accused former police Supt. Richard J. Brzeczek and William J. Kunkle, a former official in the Cook County state's attorney's office, of failing to investigate the claims of torture.

Kunkle, now a Cook County circuit judge, could not be reached for comment.

Brzeczek, a lawyer in private practice, told the Associated Press that "they can blame me for whatever they want to blame me for. I know what I did was correct. It was not dereliction of duty."

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