A former Chicago police commander who long has been accused of brutally abusing and torturing black criminal suspects now faces charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
The FBI arrested former Chicago police Cmdr. Lt. Jon Burge at his home in Florida on Tuesday. He's charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying about the torture of suspects during a civil lawsuit in 2003.
For decades, criminal suspects on Chicago's South Side complained they'd been beaten with telephone books, burned with cigarettes, nearly suffocated with plastic typewriter covers — even subjected to electric shock — while being interrogated by detectives in the police district known as Area 2.
Who Is Jon Burge?
At the center of those allegations is Burge, who became a detective in Area 2 in 1972. Through much of the 1980s, he supervised detectives in the same area. The police department fired Burge in 1993.
A decade later, then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan found evidence of torture-coerced confessions that was compelling enough to pardon four men from death row.
In 2006, special state prosecutors concluded that more than 100 suspects, almost all of them black men, had been tortured and abused under Burge but that too much time had passed to file charges.
Burge, 60, has been living in Florida on a Chicago police pension. He had not faced criminal charges — until Tuesday.
"Jon Burge shamed his uniform and shamed his badge," Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said at a news conference Tuesday.
Fitzgerald said that according to the indictment, Burge "while working in Area 2 as a detective and later a sergeant and then a lieutenant, participated in and witnessed the abuse of people in police custody."
But just as the special prosecutors had found, Fitzgerald said the statute of limitations had run out on the alleged acts of brutality and torture.
So a grand jury handed up an indictment charging Burge with three counts of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Others May Be Prosecuted
Fitzgerald said his office started investigating Burge a couple of years ago after receiving the special prosecutors' report. He makes no apologies for not being able to bring charges of torture and abuse.
"If people commit multiple crimes and you can't prosecute them for one, there's nothing wrong with prosecuting him for another," he said. "If Al Capone went down for taxes, that was better than him going down for nothing."
For Flint Taylor, an attorney with the People's Law Office in Chicago, news of the charges against Burge was welcome and long overdue.
Taylor, who represents some of the alleged victims of police brutality, said he is pleased that 22 years after the first allegations of torture and cover-up, Burge has finally been charged.
"We are also aware that more investigation and more indictments must follow because it wasn't just Jon Burge," Taylor said. "There was a series of detectives and sergeants under his command who also tortured in a serial manner and who have also lied under oath as Burge has."
Fitzgerald said he has every reason to believe that other Chicago law enforcement officials participated in torture and abuse and lied about it — or knew about it and covered it up. He says they will still be prosecuted.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was a state's attorney during much of the time Burge and those under his command allegedly tortured suspects. Taylor and others have suggested that Daley knew about it and did nothing. But on Tuesday, Daley denied ever knowing about the torture accusations.
"I was very proud of my role as prosecutor," Daley said. "I was not the mayor, I was not the police chief, I did not promote this man in the '80s, so let's put everything into perspective."
The City of Chicago has paid nearly $45 million in legal defense bills and to settle lawsuits brought by victims who said they were tortured by Burge and his underlings.
Burge's attorney declined to comment. Burge appeared in federal court in Tampa on Tuesday and is free after posting a $250,000 bond. He is scheduled to be arraigned in Chicago on Nov. 27.