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FEATURE NEWS

CHICAGO'S TAXPAYER FUNDED HOUSE OF HORRORS
Torture of citizens went on for decades

May 07, 2015




Two Chicago Police officers in the rain on Michigan Ave. in 1973. Photo by Paul Sequeira (National Archives and Records Administration) Wikimedia Commons.
(NATIONAL) -- For decades few people in officialdom in Chicago seemed to give much weight to tales of criminal suspects being tortured into confessions by police officers who went about their task of inflicting human misery with impunity.

After all, it was always or most always the police officer's words against the suspect's word. Who would believe the word of a perp with a few arrests under his belt - or even none at all - against a man with a badge and gun who is sworn to serve and protect and who has no criminal record himself?

Then there is the proposition of police internal investigations of complaints.

Police investigating themselves is a prospect that on the face of it some public defenders would say is fraught with a Pandora's box of conflicts of interest not to mention numerous motives for cover ups.

Some people, perhaps those who were tortured in Chicago in particular, may believe such an investigative system makes as much sense as putting politicians in charge of investigating their own bad behavior and then issuing official reports.

For a sadist the enclosed confines of a police station where brother and sister officers often have a vested interest in covering the sadist's back - and a suspect remaining under the sadist's control at all times - could be viewed as the perfect marriage of a secure government job with benefits and the sadist being able to enjoy his or her own private Disneyland on demand.

"For decades, they had waited for an apology. This group of black men, some now graying and bent by age, had complained of violent abuse at the hands of the police in the 1970s and ’80s on this city’s South Side. They said they had been suffocated with plastic bags, beaten with phone books, shocked with cattle prods — torture tactics meant to extract confessions to crimes," said the New York Times in a lead paragraph of a story Wednesday about the police house of horrors in Chicago.

Yesterday the city of Chicago said it was sorry for the torture its citizens received at the hands of some police officers over many years, with the city council voting without dissent pay $5.5 million in reparations to victims of torture and abuse by a group of officers known as the “Midnight Crew.”

The crew was overseen by a notorious police commander named Jon Burge who eventually went to prison, but never for the crime of torture of a human being.

Beside the vote to pay over $5 million dollars in total to victims, the city will also foot the bill for psychological counseling for victims, job training and assurances that their story of what happened to them in the city's house of horrors would be taught in Chicago schools so that it would never be forgotten.

WARNING SIGNS HAD BEEN THERE FOR YEARS

But the reparations to victims - and the acknowledgement of what went on in that city for a very long time - did not come out of the blue. It was not as if there had been no warning signs for years.

Over the past decade, the City of Chicago has spent more than $500 million - that is more than half a billion dollars - on settlements, judgments, fees and other costs related to police misconduct, according to a 2014 investigation by the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

The warning signs in Chicago were large and had been there for a long, long time.

One alleged victim of police torture, Anthony Holmes spent 30 years of his life prison for a 1973 murder he says he falsely confessed to after being tortured.

This week the Chicago city council also approved a $415,000 settlement with a woman who said she had been sexually assaulted in 2011 by two on-duty police officers, who have since resigned and pleaded guilty to criminal charges of official misconduct.

In a statement about all of this, the Chicago Police Department said, "Jon Burge’s actions are a disgrace — to Chicago, to the hard-working men and women of the police department, and most importantly to those he was sworn to protect. Mayor Emanuel and Superintendent McCarthy have zero tolerance for any misconduct.”

As for former officer Burge, five years ago special prosecutors put out a report corroborating the claims of abuse but by then statutes of limitation on abuse charges had run out.

Instead, Burge was convicted in 2010 of perjury and obstruction of justice. He went to prison and completed his prison sentence this year. He still draws his taxpayer-funded pension of $4,000 a month -- more money than millions of Americans working full time make in 30 days.

The Times report said reached by phone at his home in Florida, Mr. Burge declined to comment on the reparations.

WHO POLICES THE POLICE?

The action of Chicago's city council Wednesday comes at a time in America where police conduct - particularly in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. - is under a microscope.

Citizens across America are asking themselves, how much of this behavior goes on day in day out in cities across this country and is never revealed? How much goes on that police officers are never held accountable for? Who is more dangerous, criminals or police?

Why is it that many people of color in America say none of this is new, yet many white Americans appear shocked by what they have seen of late, including a gang of sheriff's officers in California videotaped by a helicopter ganging up on one man on the ground and delivering a viscous beating to the man who had already surrendered?

In Seattle recently two computer programmers - who felt they were treated unfairly by police - began digging into Seattle Police records regarding complaints against officers and civilian employees of the police department and how those complaints were handled by police internal investigations, called the Office of Professional Accountability in Seattle.

Eric Rachner, 39, and Phil Mocek,40, obtained hundreds of reports, videos, and 911 calls related to the Seattle Police Department's internal investigations of officer misconduct between 2010 and 2013.

And even though they say they've looked through only a small portion of the data, they told a Seattle newspaper The Stranger they found several instances of officers appearing to lie, use racist language, and use excessive force—with no consequences.

"In fact, they believe that the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) has systematically "run interference" for cops. In the aforementioned cases of alleged officer misconduct, all of the involved officers were exonerated and still remain on the force," according to the newspaper's report.

Among other things the men discovered that a total of 1,028 Seattle Police employees (including civilian employees) were investigated between 2010 and 2013.

Of the 11 most-investigated employees—one was investigated 18 times during the three-year period—every one of them is still on the force.

In 569 allegations of excessive or inappropriate use of force (arising from 363 incidents), only seven were sustained. That means that 99 percent of cases were dismissed.

Put another way, police investigating their own found only 1% of complaints were credible enough to warrant sanctions.

Employee exoneration rates were only slightly smaller when looking at all cases between 2010 and 2013—of the total 2,232 allegations, 284 were sustained.

Rachner told the newspaper the big problem with policing is, "That police misconduct is evaluated from the standard of the police, and not the standards of the community."





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