Will a police torturer walk?

March 26, 2014

Mark Clements, a victim of Chicago police torture who spent 28 years wrongfully imprisoned, comments on the latest injustice in the Jon Burge case.

THE NOTORIOUS police torturer Jon Burge may be released to a Tampa, Fla., halfway house in October after serving part of his four-and-a-half-year sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice in relation to the torture ring he led in the Chicago Police Department.

Burge was a lieutenant and later a commander, stationed at Area Two and Area Three headquarters on Chicago's South Side. From the 1970s until 1990, Burge and the detectives he commanded used unconscionable forms of torture against Black and Latino suspects inside interrogation rooms to extract confessions that were used to send most of the men to prison for decades, and even to death row.

According to the People's Law Office, as many as 100 of Burge's victims may still be in Illinois prisons, but are denied hearings on their claims of torture--while Burge continues to collect his full pension of as much as $3,000 a month, courtesy of Chicago taxpapers.

The Burge tortures remain as a dark stain on the criminal justice system, as the city has been forced to turn over millions of dollars to innocent people who were sent to prison based on fabricated evidence, including confessions obtained by Burge and his men.

Chicago police torturer Jon Burge
Chicago police torturer Jon Burge

There are literally hundreds of people who have reported that they were with beaten with fists, flashlights, telephone books and other objects; shocked by electrical devices; had their genitals and testicles grabbed and squeezed; suffocated with a typewriter cover and other methods. And Burge's victims go beyond these hundreds, too--they extend to the mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandparents and friends who had to endure decades without their loved ones because of the abuses these animals inflicted.

As Tam Alex, an activist against wrongful convictions, put it, "Burge, who was responsible for torturing hundreds of men and locking them away for decades, gets four years and a halfway house."

In 2010, the state of Illinois established a commission to examine petitions for new hearings for prisoners who were tortured by Burge and his men. In 17 of 30 cases examined so far, the commission found the allegations of torture were credible and warranted hearings. Three cases were rescinded when it emerged that the director of the Illinois Torture Inquiry Relief Commission didn't notify victims of the crimes the prisoners were accused of.

Two of the 17 cases have been rejected by circuit court judges, while the other 15 are slowly working their way through the process toward hearings. In addition, this month, there was a court date for a class action petition filed in the case of People v. Johnny Plummer, which argues that still-confined torture victims should be entitled to automatic hearings on their claims of torture and whether procedural restrictions should be relaxed in the cases to afford these men quicker access to evidentiary hearings.

And now comes the news that Burge could emerge from prison early, while still collecting his pension if the Illinois Supreme Court doesn't grant a petition filed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office. Meanwhile, the men Burge and his detectives tortured will rot behind the walls of an Illinois prison. How is that justice?

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