More than 100 people who alleged they were tortured by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge or officers under his command more than 20 years ago could be eligible for settlements under an agreement announced on Tuesday. The settlements would be paid from a $5.5 million fund to be set up by the City of Chicago.
The settlements are part of a reparations package announced at a special session of the Chicago City Council Committee on Finance on Tuesday. The package also includes a formal apology to torture victims, as well as specialized counseling services, free enrollment at Chicago City Colleges and job training.
If the ordinance passes, Chicago would become the first American city to enact a comprehensive reparations law for police misconduct, city officials and advocates for victims said.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council Black Caucus, and Joe Moreno (1st) originally introduced the ordinance in October 2013. The version announced today will be formally introduced to the City Council on Wednesday and could be voted on by the full council in May, city officials said.
The reparations were the result of months of negotiations between representatives of the city, People’s Law Office, Amnesty International, USA, and Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, a coalition of lawyers, activists, artists and educators that has been pushing for reparations for torture survivors. Stephen Patton, chief lawyer for the city, said an arbitrator will determine who is eligible.
“It is quite plain and simple an ugly chapter in Chicago’s history being closed,” said Brookins, chief co-sponsor. “We’re moving forward.”
An earlier version of the ordinance called for a settlement fund of $20 million. But Joey Mogul, a lawyer with the People’s Law office, said that given the other benefits provided by the ordinance and the city’s tight finances, the $5.5 million fund was an acceptable compromise.
Brookins on Monday said survivors could each receive a maximum of $100,000. He said it was “a good deal” for those whose right to sue has expired under the statute of limitations and for those who previously had accepted smaller settlements from the city.
“Many people would say ‘no it’s never enough,’” Brookins said, “but it’s a meaningful settlement.”
Chicago Torture Justice Memorials praised the reparations package as a “historic agreement” that follows decades of organizing by a number of social justice organizations.
Burge was sentenced to 54 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for lying in a deposition in a civil case about torture and abuse of suspects by Chicago police officers. Burge, who joined the police department in 1970, was fired in 1993. The U.S. Department of Justice determined that Burge and detectives under his command systematically tortured more than 100 black men and women on the South and West sides from 1972 to 1991.
Their methods included suffocation, electric shock and mock executions, according to the Department of Justice. Scores of victims were forced into false confessions and later convicted, advocates for the victims have said.
Brookins said the full City Council would vote on a comprehensive reparations ordinance in May. At least 26 aldermen are signed on to the Chicago Police Torture Reparations Ordinance, and Brookins said he’s confident it will pass.
The ordinance would also call for rehearings for incarcerated torture survivors who say they were coerced into confessions. Advocates are asking that they be released if there is proof of wrongful conviction.
Mogul, with the People’s Law Office, told The Chicago Reporter the ordinance would set a precedent in Chicago and across the country.
“This can serve as a model for other places to not only take responsibility for police violence that’s race-based but to actually commit resources, energy, good will and public will to address the needs of those impacted,” he said.
On Sunday, Darrell Cannon and Anthony Holmes met with Mogul to discuss the Tuesday hearing. Both men, torture survivors in their 60s, were convicted of murder based on forced confessions and later imprisoned. They are hopeful the ordinance will pass.
“If not, we’ll continue to fight,” said Cannon, who served 24 years in prison but was released in 2007 after his conviction was dismissed. “You know, the parole board said Darrell Canon would never be granted parole. Here I am.”
Holmes echoed Cannon: “I feel now more confident than I’ve ever felt, because we have help.”
Cannon, 64, said three detectives arrested him on Nov. 2, 1983, accusing him of ordering the death of a drug dealer or at least knowing who committed the crime. Cannon alleges that the men coerced a confession out of him that led to his wrongful conviction.
He told the Reporter detectives took him to a remote area on the South Side and abused him with an electric cattle prod, among other “sadistic” acts, that have left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Holmes, 68, alleges that one May morning in 1973, while he was at home with his wife and kids, Burge showed up with six officers.
He told the Reporter he remembers Burge vividly, because he held a shotgun against his head. Holmes is believed to be one of Burge’s first victims, according to the People’s Law Office. The officers accused Holmes of either committing murder or ordering it and allegedly tortured him by suffocating him with a plastic bag and electrocuting him.
“Twenty-four hours a day I think about this,” said Holmes, who spent 30 years in prison for a murder he denies committing. “I wake up in sweats. Nightmares. It’s something that isn’t going to ever change.”
To date, no Chicago police officer has faced criminal charges for torturing a civilian. In 2011, Burge was sentenced to 4 ½ years in federal prison for lying about his knowledge of the torture, but he was able to keep his $4,000 monthly city pension. He finished his sentence earlier this year and lives in Florida.
The city has spent more than $20 million in private legal fees defending Burge and others implicated in the torture scandal and has paid out about $64 million in settlements related to civil cases, according to the People’s Law Office. Cook County has spent about $11 million to pay prosecutors, private lawyers and settlements, and the state has spent about $1.6 million incarcerating torture victims who were later exonerated.
In an interview Sunday, Cannon said: “Now the evidence is irrefutable that police torture existed.”