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Smith: No statute of limitations for abusive cops

May 22, 2006 |

Following the decision of a criminal court judge to release details of a four-year investigation into torture allegations, one Chicago alderman said there should be no statute of limitations when it comes to the officers accused of torturing nearly 200 Black men.

Ald. Ed Smith (28th), chair of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said making public the results of the $5.5 million investigation by special prosecutors Edward Egan and Robert Boyle can only serve to improve race relations in the city but the work should not end with the unsealing of the report.

“I hope this leads to where the road ends,” Smith told the Defender Friday. “We cannot allow this to be dropped here. If all the allegations are true, why allow the statute of limitations to run out on wrongdoing?”

It is unclear whether the investigation will lead to indictments because the statute of limitations may have run out for some of the alleged torture incidents.

Smith and other advocates for the 192 Black men allegedly tortured by former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge and officers under his command are hopeful the details of the report will be a prelude to indictments for Burge and at least 20 other police officers.

Cook County Criminal Court Chief Judge Paul Biebel Friday said details of the investigation will be released, despite objections filed by attorneys representing the officers named in the report.

In an opinion and order issued Friday on allegations of torture by police officers at Areas 2 and 3 under Burge, Biebel said the right of the public to fully know the contents of the report outweighed the privacy of individual officers.

“On the one side a community of interested citizens urge the court to permit public disclosure of the report to uncover the facts surrounding events occurring at Areas 2 and 3. On the other the court must carefully balance (police officers’) rights to be shielded from negative publicity with the right of the public to be informed of the results of the special prosecutor’s investigation,” Biebel wrote in the opinion. “The Court is drawn to the path of full disclosure. The release of the report will address the issues which have led to rumor and speculation which have spread unimpeded over the fabric of the Cook County criminal justice system for more than 30 years.”

Biebel, who scheduled the next status hearing for June 2, did not specify when the document should be released leaving that up to the special prosecutors.

Egan said Friday that the report would not be released sooner than June 2, saying he and his colleague Boyle would take the time to go over the report and ensure its accuracy.

An attorney for some of the police officers, said he and other lawyers would decide within several days whether to appeal Biebel's ruling.

He added he was disappointed but not surprised by Friday's decision.

"We knew it was coming and now we move forward," he said.

Still, advocates and attorneys for the 192 torture victims called the pending release of the report a preliminary victory.

“We believe (the report) will be a prelude to indictments,” said attorney Locke Bowman, director of the University of Chicago’s MacArthur Justice Center. “Now we look forward to what disclosure will mean. If this doesn’t damn their actions, it will be extraordinary.”

Also on Friday, the United Nations called on the United States to fully investigate the torture allegations at Area 2.

If there are no indictments at the county or federal level, an international authority should take charge, Bowman said.

Then-State’s Attorney and now Mayor Richard M. Daley should have investigated the torture allegations in 1982, when there was no question about a statute of limitations, said attorney Flint Taylor, a founding partner of the People’s Law Office, a group dedicated to litigating civil rights, police violence and government misconduct.

“I think we all need to look at the City of Chicago’s role in this. A federal court, we feel, will fully expose the continuing obstruction of justice,” Taylor said.

Though the contents of the report are still unknown, Taylor said he expects it to roundly condemn torture at Area 2.

Biebel appointed the special prosecutors in 2002 to investigate claims of torture by a violent crimes unit led by Burge, who has denied any misconduct but was fired in 1993 for mistreating a suspect.

Allegations include officers using suffocation techniques, such as placing a typewriter cover over a suspect's head, along with electric shocks, beatings and mock Russian roulette to elicit confessions.

Egan and Boyle needed Biebel's approval to release the report because some parts of their investigation were under seal.

Biebel’s opinion Friday represents three decades of work nearing an end, said David Bates, an Area 2 torture victim. Bates said he was tortured into a murder confession in 1983 after he was subjected to near suffocation, insults, racial slurs and beatings for two days. He served 11 years in prison and was acquitted after three appeals.

“They beat the hell out of me. They were enjoying beating Black men. Period,” Bates said. “Hopefully Burge will have an orange jump suit on real soon.”

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