Suspects tortured but it's too late for charges
July 20, 2006
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES BY ABDON M. PALLASCH AND STEFANO ESPOSITO
Yes, Chicago Police tortured suspects, but it happened too long ago to charge the officers.
And Mayor Daley, who was state's attorney at the time, did nothing "prosecutable" by handing off a request from then-Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek to investigate a murder suspect's torture allegations. Daley passed the request to top aide Dick Devine, who passed it to the office's No. 3 man William Kunkle, who handed it off to another prosecutor. It was never investigated.
Daley and Devine could and should have followed up on the torture allegations, but Brzeczek deserves the lion's share of blame.
Those are among the findings laid out by special prosecutors in a long-awaited 300-page report released Wednesday. The document is the fruit of a four-year, $7 million investigation into accusations that former police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his men used electric shocks and fists to get confessions. In almost all cases, the officers were white and the victims black.
3 cases warranted prosecution
"This investigation we have conducted would never have been necessary if Richard Brzeczek had done his . . . duty," concludes the report by Special Prosecutor Edward Egan, a retired appellate justice.
Brzeczek blasted the report as "scapegoating" him.
In at least three of the 148 torture allegations -- including the one that Daley, Devine, Kunkle and others failed to pursue -- Egan said he would have brought criminal charges against the officers. But the statute of limitations has run out.
"So Jon Burge is not going to be charged, and we're still paying his pension," lamented Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th), an attorney who represented a victim in one of those cases.
Burge, in semi-retirement near Tampa, Fla., offered no comment as he fetched mail in loafers, jean shorts and a polo shirt Wednesday afternoon, other than asking a TV news crew if they could shave a few pounds off his frame.
Report called 'whitewash'
Attorneys for alleged torture victims dismissed the report as a "whitewash."
"It's deeply puzzling to us that Richard Brzeczek could be so strongly condemned for failing to take action when the state's attorney of Cook County, now the mayor of the city of Chicago, was equally aware of the torture," attorney Locke Bowman said.
"Daley and Devine are ultimately culpable. . . . What did they do? Nothing," said attorney Flint Taylor.
Even the special prosecutor's office was critical of Daley.
"We accept Mayor Daley's explanation, but would not have done it the way that he did," said Egan's deputy, Robert Boyle, who added that he and Egan interviewed Daley and Devine, now the Cook County state's attorney.
Egan said at least a dozen police officers in Burge's "midnight crew" at the Area 2 police station in Pullman tortured suspects, and at least three former prosecutors acquiesced or at least failed to ask why suspects appeared battered and bruised.
Because the statute of limitations has expired for all these crimes, Burge and his underlings will never be charged unless federal prosecutors can find a way.
"They have RICO and the Hobbs Act," Boyle said, referring to federal laws with longer statutes of limitations than state criminal law. But twice before federal prosecutors have investigated torture claims against Burge's crew and found insufficient evidence.
'I think it's a joke'
In at least half the 145 non-prosecutable cases, Egan "believes" torture took place but does not have the evidence to prove it.
"I think it's a joke. I think it's a whitewash. For $7 million, what did they find out that we didn't already know?" said Frank Avila, who represents alleged victim Aaron Patterson.
Andrew Wilson is another alleged victim. He was a suspect in the 1982 murder of two Chicago cops -- and was eventually convicted. Dr. John Raba, director of medical services at the Cook County Jail hospital, found burn marks on his body consistent with being handcuffed to a radiator. Raba wrote Brzeczek a letter saying Wilson had clearly been tortured and urged an investigation.
Brzeczek forwarded the letter to Daley, saying he would wait for instructions on how to proceed so as not to jeopardize the murder case against Wilson.
Daley and Devine were new to their jobs. They trusted Kunkle -- the man who prosecuted John Wayne Gacy and the main prosecutor on Wilson's case -- to handle the investigation, Daley and Devine told special prosecutors. Kunkle handed it off to prosecutor Frank DeBoni, the report says.
DeBoni told special prosecutors that Kunkle or someone else had told him that Wilson's lawyer would be calling him if Wilson wanted to pursue charges against the officers.
Kunkle and DeBoni are now Cook County judges.
Special prosecutors said Kunkle had a conflict of interest handling the investigation of Wilson's torture allegations at the same time he was heading the prosecution against Wilson.
During their interview with Kunkle, he did not recall much and could not offer explanations for his ever-changing reasons for Wilson's burns. He tried to convince Egan and Boyle that the officers in the squadrol transporting Wilson beat him.
"In four separate hearings, Judge Kunkle took four separate positions -- no explanation; no burns; self-inflicted burns; and last, self-inflicted burns or alternatively, burns caused by the wagon men," the report states. "When we questioned Judge Kunkle, we sought some explanation of the seeming inconsistencies in the positions he had taken. He invoked the attorney-client privilege. Our hopes that Judge Kunkle . . . would shed some light on the question were dashed."
Kunkle is just one of many prosecutors mentioned in the report who have gone on to become judges, appellate justices, even attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
The prosecutor singled out for the harshest criticism is Larry Hyman, now an attorney in private practice, who took the alleged confession from Wilson. Wilson said he told Hyman that police beat him. Hyman refused to be interviewed by Egan and Boyle. Hyman's attorney Ralph Meczyk called the report "slanderous."
Devine defends tenure
"Larry saw no obvious bruises, except the one over his eye," Meczyk said. Hyman asked the officer how Wilson was injured, Meczyk said, adding the officer said it happened during the course of the arrest. "Wilson didn't quarrel with it. He didn't deny it," Meczyk said.
Had Wilson's case been adequately investigated back in 1982, it could have stopped another 10 years of torture by Burge's crew, Egan and Boyle said.
Devine defended his tenure, saying he has prosecuted 125 police officers for various offenses. After talking with Boyle and Egan, his office, along with the Chicago Police Department, implemented new procedures to prevent abuses. Instead of waiting for the Office of Professional Standards to turn over "ripe" allegations of police misconduct, the police and prosecutors now meet monthly so prosecutors can jump on any hot charges. Prosecutors are compiling a database of officers with repeat charges of brutality.
Contributing: Frank Main, Steve Warmbir, Natasha Korecki, Mark J. Konkol, Eric Herman, Annie Sweeney, St. Petersburg Times.