Our Fragile Legacies, Pt 1

The young cop was a fast rising star of unlimited potential. The old man reminds us even the brightest stars can implode.


If Wilson's arrest, interrogation, and confession were the beginning of the end for one of the CPD's darkest and saddest times that began with the murders of the two gang crimes officers, they also touched off a much longer era of accusation and suspicion, and in some cases, confirmation, of official misconduct and torture carried out in the name of justice. The consequences of the tumbling dominoes tipped that one February day in 1982 would prove vast for the city and its police force, the state of criminal justice in Illinois, and for Jon Burge.

Andrew Wilson had emerged from interrogation in far different health than he went in. So differently, in fact, he wound up in an emergency room where more than a dozen fresh injuries, including burns to his thigh and chest, burns and puncture wounds on his ears and nose, allegedly caused by alligator clips attached to them and used to deliver electric shocks, and numerous injuries consistent with having been severely beaten were documented. Wilson told his public defender the next day, and repeated the story many times after as he sought to expose his claims of torture, of electric shocks to his face and genitals and receiving repeated punches and kicks to his head and body from a number of detectives throughout the day, of near-suffocation from a plastic bag placed over his head, and of being tied to a searing hot radiator causing the severe burns to his chest.

Wilson filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 1986 and, represented by attorneys from the People's Law Office, took the case to trial in 1989 (there were three separate civil trials held, with the first ending in a mistrial and the second that, curiously, found Wilson's rights had been violated but that he had not been exposed to excessive force in his interrogation. After appealing the verdict of the second, he won the third trial in 1996). Although Wilson had been convicted of the murders and sentenced to death, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1987 based upon the evidence of abuse and coerced confession. He was convicted in his second criminal trial, even with the confession suppressed, and given a life sentence. It was during the first civil trial in 1989 that the snowball really began to roll. His attorneys began receiving anonymous letters from someone within the Chicago Police Department identifying "Burge's asskickers" and indicating there were additional torture victims.

One tip, apparently from within the CPD ranks, led to an inmate named Melvin Jones who, in turn, provided the information that would eventually direct investigators to over 100 possible recipients of torturous interrogation techniques by, or under the command of, Jon Burge. Allegations and evidence of systemic and carefully planned torture surfaced. The use of electrical shocks, beatings, mock executions, cigarette burns, and near suffocation with plastic bags was detailed. In 1990 the CPD Office of Professional Standards opened an investigation into Burge, two investigators under him, and the allegations of abuse at Area 2. The Chicago Police Board subsequently initiated hearings aimed at dismissing Burge and the two investigators based upon the abuse of Wilson, and in early 1992 concluded its investigation. In February 1993 he was found guilty of physically abusing Wilson eleven years earlier and fired. The other two detectives were given long suspensions but eventually reinstated.

Burge's firing was far from the end of his troubles. During the police board hearings a long-suppressed internal document surfaced that acknowledged a long history of physical abuse of suspects at Area 2 headquarters, and that it was no secret to the brass and others. Several suspects previously interrogated under Burge testified against him and, amidst the revelations of torture, new lawsuits were being filed against him, the police department, and the City of Chicago. It was testimony given by Burge during one of these lawsuits that would lead to his ultimate fate; one no cop ever expects to face.

Burge had never been charged criminally as a result of the allegations of torture and, in 2008, the statute of limitations for torturing criminal suspects was long expired, but keeping a secret - protecting a lie - is very hard to do. Written testimony, provided by Burge under oath during a 2003 federal civil lawsuit filed by Madison Hobley, was determined by United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to have been false and provided with the intent to impede court proceedings. Fitzgerald determined to pursue Burge and indicted him on two counts obstruction of justice and one of perjury.

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