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Friday, October 24, 2008

Former Chicago Top Cop Charged

Fitzgerald: Others could be charged in Burge case
Chicago Tribune - October 21, 2008

Retired Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge, facing charges of lying under oath when he denied that he participated in torture of suspects, will be released this afternoon on a $250,000 secured bond, posting his residence as security. Burge is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday, Oct. 27, before U.S. District Judge Joan H. Lefkow in federal court in Chicago. Burge was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury in a three-count indictment unsealed today following his arrest at his retirement residence near Tampa, Fla. He had an initial court appearance in federal court in Tampa this afternoon. At a news conference in Chicago this morning, U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said the charges show that Burge "broke the law when he was supposed to uphold it," and warned that others who lied about torture could eventually be charged. The case marks the beginning of the Burge prosecution, he said, but "it is not the end of the investigation of torture and abuse." Fitzgerald said federal prosecutors have reason to believe that others also lied during the course of civil proceedings, and said that the possibility of witnesses lying to a grand jury is still under investigation. Anyone who is not honest with investigators should now understand they are lying at their own risk, he said, and no one in the case should hang on some unwritten police code of silence to protect themselves. "It may be hanging on air," Fitzgerald said. "We will get to the bottom of what we can get to."

Fitzgerald said prosecutors will use witness statements to prove that Burge knew torture was ongoing. Prosecutors said Burge engaged in and knew of the torture of suspects, including some who were accused of committing terrible crimes. "Some of them may have been guilty of awful crimes, but that is no excuse," Fitzgerald said. Included in that group may be Madison Hobley, whose civil lawsuit is at the center of the charges against Burge. The fact that his suit provided the context in which Burge gave false statements does not mean the charges against Burge absolve Hobley of the crime he was being investigated for, authorities said. That was a 1987 arson fire that killed seven people, including Hobley's wife and child. Hobley remains under federal investigation for that crime, even though he received a pardon during former Gov. George Ryan's clemency decision that emptied the state's Death Row. Fitzgerald also acknowledged that, at least in some respects, Burge was being charged with what was available to authorities now. The statute of limitations has expired on the torture itself, but prosecutors at least could hold him accountable for lying about it decades later. "Al Capone went down for taxes - that's better than him going down for nothing," Fitzgerald said. Burge, 60, now living in Apollo Beach, Fla., near Tampa, was scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Tampa today.

A special prosecutors' report paid for by Cook County and released in 2006 concluded that dozens of suspects had been tortured by Chicago police but that no one could be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had run out. Today's indictment gets around that legal problem by charging Burge with perjury, not with any instances of actual torture. Burge denied any torture took place while answering written questions in 2003 as part of the lawsuit filed by Hobley, one of the alleged victims. According to the indictment, the Hobley lawsuit included a specific allegation that police officers placed a plastic bag over Hobley's head until he lost consciousness. The indictment cites the questions and answers during the civil questioning, noting that Burge was asked whether he ever used torture methods--including beatings, the use of restraints or machines to deliver electric shocks--or whether other officers were involved. Burge objected to the question as overly broad, and then answered: "I have never used any techniques set forth above as a means of improper coercion of suspects while in detention or during interrogation." In January, the city approved a $20 million settlement with four alleged torture victims.

Several alleged torture victims reacted to the news of Burge's arrest during a news conference at Rainbow/PUSH headquarters on the South Side. "This is a happy day," said Darrell Cannon, who spent 24 years in state prison on a murder charge following a Burge investigation. "The man that has been skating for so long, riding in his boat, catching fish is now in jail, killing roaches." Cannon said Burge's "right hand crew" of officers tortured him in 1983. He said he drew pictures of the scene that led internal police department investigators back to the location where he said he was tortured. Anthony Holmes, another alleged victim of police torture who spent 33 years in prison, said he regretted that it took decades for Burge to be arrested and charged. "When I first got arrested, no one would acknowledge that torture existed," Holmes said. "I hope they give him as much time as they have given all of us." According to the indictment, Burge was a Chicago police officer from 1970 to 1993, a detective at Area 2 police headquarters on the South Side from 1972 to 1974, and an Area 2 sergeant from 1977 to 1980. From about 1981 to 1986 he was a lieutenant and supervisor of detectives in the Area 2 violent crimes unit. Later, he was commander of the Bomb and Arson Unit and later commander of Area 3 detectives. He was suspended by the police department in 1991 and fired in 1993.

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