Appeals Court Reinstates Cop Torture Claims

     (CN) – Two men who claim Chicago police tortured them into confessions should not have had their cases dismissed, an Illinois appeals court ruled.
     Scott Mitchell and Darrell Fair filed separate lawsuits against the state under the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, or TIRC, Act.
     The Illinois Legislature formed the commission in 2012 to “conduct inquiries into claims of torture with priority to be given to those cases in which the convicted person is currently incarcerated solely for the crime to which he or she claims torture by (former Cmdr.) Jon Burge or officers under his command, or both.”
     Burge was suspended by the Chicago Police Department in 1991 and fired in 1993.
     Fair was convicted of first-degree murder in 2003. He claimed that he was subjected to 30 hours of interrogation and torture before he confessed. One of the detectives in Fair’s case had served under Burge and later testified against him in federal court.
     Mitchell alleged that he confessed to being involved in a homicide related to an armed robbery after several of Burge’s former officers interrogated and tortured him for 33 hours.
     The TIRC referred their cases to the Cook County Circuit Court, which dismissed them because the alleged torture took place after Burge’s firing.
     However, the First District Illinois Appellate Court reversed the decision in an opinion written by Justice Nathaniel R. Howse Jr.
     Howse found that the language of the TIRC Act was ambiguous, because it includes officers who served under Burge, but “given that the definition is written in the present tense, it is also reasonable to interpret the statute’s language as only encompassing ‘claims of torture’ committed by Jon Burge or an officer presently under his command.”
     To resolve this conflict, Howse turned to the commission’s own jurisdictional rules, which include officers that served under Burge.
     “Given the TIRC’s clear interpretation of the Torture Act, that ‘claims of torture’ include those claims of torture committed by an officer ‘who had previously been under the supervision of Burge,’ and in light of the fact that we ‘must give substantial weight and deference to statutory interpretations made by an administrative agency charged with administration of a particular statute,’ we defer to the TIRC’s interpretation and reverse the circuit’s finding that petitioners’ claims fell outside of the TIRC’s jurisdiction,” he wrote for a three-judge panel.
     Howse remanded Mitchell and Fair’s cases to the circuit court to review their allegations of police torture.
     Last month, a California man who survived a murder attempt when he was 11 sued the city of Chicago in an attempt to block an award of $100,000 to his alleged assailant. The award was based on a claim that the defendant had been tortured by Burge’s police force.
     In February, a man who claimed to have been wrongfully convicted of murder sued the City of Chicago, claiming that he spent 24 years in prison as a victim of “a clandestine group of Area 2 detectives who worked with, and later under the command and supervision of, former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, to systematically torture African American suspects during interrogations.”
     Howse’s opinion was dated March 31 but only recently appeared as a published opinion.

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