Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=101263
Story Retrieval Date: 5/21/2013 9:13:07 PM CST
A former high-ranking Chicago police officer, long accused of torturing suspects while they were in custody, has been indicted by federal authorities.
Former Commander Jon Burge, 60, was taken into custody without incident at his Florida home Tuesday morning on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury stemming from responses given in a 2003 written interrogation, U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald said Tuesday in announcing the indictment in Chicago.
“According to these charges Jon Burge shamed his uniform and shamed his badge,” Fitzgerald said.
The charges come less than a month before the statute of limitations on the alleged perjury runs out. Fitzgerald added that Burge may not be alone in being charged.
“We have a reason to believe that other people may have lied about that torture and abuse. We intend to pursue that part of the investigation moving forward,” Fitzgerald said.
The 2003 investigation in question is the result of a civil lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in Chicago, Hobley v. Burge, et al.
The lawsuit alleged that in January 1987, Madison Hobley was coerced into a confession at Area Two headquarters. Burge’s written responses were given during discovery for that case.
The City Council voted in January to settle that suit, paying four men who alleged they were torture victims a combined $19.8 million.
The actual indictment issued Tuesday does not specify the specific incidents of torture that Burge was aware of or participated in – he has been accused of abusing more than 200 men, mostly African-American, between 1972 and 1991. However, Fitzgerald did say that those specifics would be dealt with when the case went to trial.
The specific statements prosecutors contend Burge falsely gave are that he denied both participating in torture techniques and possessing knowledge of torture.
Fitzgerald said the prosecution will dispute this statement by proving torture not only occurred, but Burge either participated in it or was aware of its continued practice.
“As of last Thursday when we brought the indictment, we felt comfortable we could prove torture and abuse and that his statement was a lie,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald was asked if a code of silence among officers aware of the alleged torture prevented indictments in the past. He responded that that code would not prevent indictments in the future.
“If their lifeline is to hang on to a perceived code of silence, they may be hanging on air,” Fitzgerald said. “Anyone who thinks they can lie in a grand jury or rely on a code of silence is taking a great risk.”
While the statute of limitations for prosecuting possible acts of torture has long since passed, prosecutors said Burge could still be held to account for his actions.
“People who commit multiple crimes, if you can’t prosecute them for one, there is nothing wrong with prosecuting them for another, Fitzgerald said. “Al Capone went down for taxes; that’s better than him going down for nothing.”
Burge served as a Chicago police officer from 1970 until his firing in 1993. It was in 1991 that a series of lawsuits alleging Burge and his subordinates participated in the torture of suspects began to surface.
Burge appeared before a federal judge in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon. He was released on $250,00 bond and is scheduled to appear in federal court in Chicago on Monday.
If convicted, Burge faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count of obstruction of justice and five years in prison for perjury, and a $250,000 fine on each count. Officials said a judge has latitude in sentencing, noting that federal sentencing guidelines are advisory.