Settlement for Torture of 4 Men by Police
By MONICA DAVEY and CATRIN EINHORN, December 8, 2007
CHICAGO, Dec. 7 — The City of Chicago is preparing to pay nearly $20 million to four men who were once sent to death row after interrogations that they say amounted to torture by the Chicago police, the city’s law department said on Friday.
If the legal settlement is approved next week by the city’s aldermen, it will be a crucial first effort to put a painful, notorious chapter in the city’s history behind it, some officials here said.
The four men were among scores of black men who reported being tortured, beaten with telephone books, and even suffocated with plastic typewriter covers during police interrogations in the 1970s and 1980s, special prosecutors found last year. The four men were pardoned by Gov. George Ryan in 2003.
Of the proposed settlement, Flint Taylor, a lawyer for one of the men, Leroy Orange, said, “It speaks volumes about the seriousness of the systematic torture, abuse and cover-up that went on in the city of Chicago for decades.”
The settlement comes at a time of tense relations between the Chicago Police Department and the city’s residents, following a string of incidents — the beatings of civilians caught on videotape, a report showing a high rate of brutality complaints, a corruption investigation into an elite police unit. Only last month, officials announced they had selected a new police superintendent from outside the city ranks.
“This is an important step down the road,” Toni Preckwinkle, an alderman, said of the planned settlement. “We have to acknowledge first that terrible wrongs were committed, then begin to make amends to those who were wronged, then put a system in place to see that this doesn’t happen again.”
Monique Bond, a spokeswoman for the Police Department, called the settlement “a positive step forward as we make fighting crime and building community trust our No. 1 priority.”
Many of those who reported torture in police interrogation rooms pointed to a commander named Jon Burge, who was fired in 1993, and to those he supervised. Mr. Burge did not respond to a telephone message at his Florida home on Friday.
Advocates for some of the four men seemed relieved by the financial settlements, but emphasized that there were still others out there who had reported being similarly abused and tortured into confessing. Many were still behind bars, Mr. Taylor said.
Kurt Feuer, who represents Madison Hobley, another of the four men, criticized the city as taking too long.
“It shouldn’t have taken four and a half years and millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money spent on fighting us tooth and nail every step of the way,” Mr. Feuer said. “Whose interests were served by that?”
Since their pardons, Mr. Hobley, who had been convicted of killing seven people in a 1987 arson, and Mr. Orange, who was convicted in the 1984 stabbing deaths of two adults and two children, have been out of prison. Two others, Stanley Howard and Aaron Patterson, are behind bars now — Mr. Howard on an unrelated charge and Mr. Patterson on new drugs and weapon charges.
More recently, Mr. Hobley has been identified as the suspect in a federal arson and murder investigation, according to a news release from the city law department. If he is indicted and convicted in the federal case, the settlement says, a part of his money will not be paid.
Told of the settlement, Kevin Milan, a relative of Mr. Hobley, said, “They took long enough.”
“A human’s life was hanging in the balance,” Mr. Milan said. “I watched what it did to all of us — years were taken off of lives through this.”