Oct 1, 2007
Chicago police under federal investigation
Probe to focus on claims that suspects were tortured into confessing murders.
Associated Press Writer
CHICAGO -- Videotapes of angry officers savagely beating civilians and charges that a murder plot was hatched within an elite special operations unit have Chicago's troubled Police Department reeling again.
Adding to the department's woes is word from federal prosecutors that they are investigating claims that homicide detectives tortured suspects into confessing to murders that landed them on death row in the 1980s.
Not since club-swinging cops in baby-blue helmets chased demonstrators through clouds of pepper gas at the 1968 Democratic National Convention have Chicago police been so awash in trouble.
The biggest shock came Wednesday when federal prosecutors charged special operations officer Jerome Finnigan with planning the murder of another member of the unit to keep him from talking to the government.
"This kind of stuff on Page One is just horrible," and reinforces a misleading stereotype of police, said Roosevelt University political scientist Paul Green, who taught at the police academy for four years."The overwhelming 99.9 percent do their job professionally," he said.
But evidence of deep-rooted problems is piling up.
Finnigan, 44, also is one of six members of the special operations unit, created to crack down on gangs and drugs, who are charged with operating a shakedown operation aimed at civilians. Prosecutors say they have him on tape weighing the possibility of having someone kill a fellow special operations officer to keep him from becoming a witness against him.
Finnigan and his attorney, Michael Ficaro, declined to comment.
In July, three off-duty officers pleaded not guilty to charges that they beat four businessmen in a bar in a videotaped confrontation. In another videotaped confrontation, off-duty officer Anthony Abbate was seen apparently beating a 115-pound female bartender because she would not serve him another drink. Abbate has pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of aggravated battery.
The quagmire is deepened by five federal lawsuits accusing police and city officials of covering up the torture of murder suspects at the Area 2 detective headquarters under Lt. Jon Burge in the 1980s. Burge was fired in 1993 after a suspect in the murder of two officers allegedly was abused while in his custody.
A four-year study by two special prosecutors appointed by a Cook County judge, released in July 2006, found that Chicago police beat, kicked and shocked scores of black suspects in the 1970s and 1980s to get confessions. The report said it was impossible to file charges because the incidents were so old that the statute of limitations had long since run out.
On Wednesday, however, U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald announced the federal government was stepping into the torture case, saying it would seek evidence of "perjury, false statements and obstruction of justice by members of the Chicago police department."
"It's political, it's cultural, it's systemic," said attorney G. Flint Taylor, who represents several former death row inmates now suing Burge and city officials.