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Chicago Offers Reparations Package To Police Torture Victims


The city of Chicago offered a sweeping package of reparations for men who were tortured by a former Chicago police commander and his so-called midnight crew of officers from the 1970s until the early 1990s. Jon Burge was fired from the police department in 1993. He later served a prison term. Advocates and attorneys for the victims, including Amnesty International, say the reparations package addresses an ugly chapter in the city's police department. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports from Chicago's City Hall, and we want to note her story contains language that some will find offensive.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The reparations agreement has been decades in the making. Attorneys for many of the men arrested and tortured complained about the conduct of Jon Burge and officers under his command for years. Joey Mogul with the People's Law Office says Burge and his officers tortured more than 100 people from 1972 until 1991 by beating them with blackjacks, suffocating them with plastic bags, using electric shock and racial slurs, all to extract confessions during interrogations.

JOEY MOGUL: And these confessions were then used against the victims in their criminal trials, resulting in scores of wrongful convictions and sending 11 men to Illinois' notorious death row.

CORLEY: And later, the state would place a moratorium on executions. One of Burge's first victims was Anthony Holmes, who served 13 years for a murder he says he did not commit. As Holmes told members of the Chicago City Council's Finance Committee what happened to him, he worked to catch his breath.


ANTHONY HOLMES: In 1973, he came to my house, kicked the doors in, threw me on the floor, put a shotgun to my head, knee in my neck. He said [expletive] I'm going to kill you if you don't be still.

CORLEY: Holmes says he was shocked, electrocuted and three or four times thought he was dead. Another victim, Darrell Cannon, was also emotional as he testified. Cannon was arrested in 1983 and served 24 years in prison for murder and was freed after a review board determined the evidence used to convict him was tainted. Cannon says when he was arrested, three of Burge's officers placed a shotgun at his head and played Russian roulette as they questioned him.


DARRELL CANNON: The third time that I heard that click, the hair on the back of my head stood straight up because I honestly thought he had blew my brains out. When that didn't work, they tried to hang me by my handcuffs, which was cuffed behind my back.

CORLEY: The city has already paid about $100 million in lawsuit settlements to Burge victims. Although the statute of limitations has run out, the reparations package allows any individual who can prove torture under Jon Burge's reign to receive up to $100,000. It also includes psychological counseling and free tuition to the city's colleges for the victims and their families. Alderman Howard Brookins, a co-sponsor of the legislation, credits protest over police tactics in Chicago and across the nation for making the agreement possible. He says he hopes it sends a message to police who are not working within the letter of the law.

ALDERMAN HOWARD BROOKINS: I can't say enough that it has got to stop the disparate treatment of African-American suspects and the rest of the society.

CORLEY: Former Police Commander Burge was never criminally charged, but he was found guilty of lying about the torture in a civil case. He was released from a Florida halfway house in February after serving four and a half years in prison. The reparations agreement will go to the full City Council tomorrow, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the city will also offer a formal apology to Burge's victims. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.