Chicago settles with victims of police torture

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.
On Wednesday, after years of investigation, public debate and litigation, the City of Chicago expressed remorse. City Council members voted without dissent to pay $5.5 million in reparations to victims of torture and abuse by a group of officers known as the “Midnight Crew” and overseen by a notorious police commander, Jon Burge.
For those affected, there were also promises of a memorial, psychological counseling and job training, and assurances that their story would be taught in Chicago schools.
“This is another step, but an essential step, in righting a wrong, removing a stain on the reputation of this great city and the people who make up this great city,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.
For the victims, like Anthony Holmes, who spent 30 years in prison for a 1973 murder he says he falsely confessed to after being tortured, it meant the prospect of relief.
“I don’t care how you try to forget it, how you try to put it to the side,” Mr. Holmes said. “It’s always there and at times it comes out on you. You might break down and start crying.”
As a broad conversation about police conduct and race plays out in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., Chicagoans, too, are re-examining relations with the police, including episodes more recent than those tied to Mr. Burge. On Wednesday, the City Council 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. Protesters have objected to a decision last month by a judge to drop charges against an off-duty Chicago police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black woman, Rekia Boyd, in 2012. And many say they are awaiting the fate of a police officer who shot and killed Laquan McDonald, who was 17 and carrying a knife when he was shot 16 times last fall.
Over the past decade, the City of Chicago has spent more than $500 million 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. Andy Shaw, who leads the association, said the city could have used the money to hire more police officers or teachers, or to balance the city’s troubled budget.
More than 20 years after Mr. Burge was fired from the Chicago Police Department, some people in the city’s toughest neighborhoods say that dealings with the police have grown tense, particularly in the last few years as city officials worked to tamp down a high homicide rate linked to a pervasive gang problem.
“I don’t see the times being better at all,” said Mark Clements, 50, a torture victim whose name was read at the Council meeting on Wednesday. “I see these times more so as being times of near-riot.”
Late last month, Garry McCarthy, the city’s police superintendent, announced plans for a tour around the city aimed at building trust between police and residents. And police officials say they have worked to make other improvements, too: expanding bike and foot patrols in neighborhoods, creating community policing offices in all police districts, and launching a pilot program for body cameras.
In a statement, 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.”
The cases related to Mr. Burge and the officers under his command had plagued this city for decades. In 2010, special prosecutors issued a report corroborating the abuse claims. By then, though, statutes of limitation on abuse charges had run out.
Instead, Mr. Burge was convicted in 2010 of perjury and obstruction of justice; he completed his prison sentence this year.
Reached by phone at his home in Florida, Mr. Burge declined to comment on the reparations.
Emily B. Hager contributed reporting.

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