CHICAGO (CN) – Three men detained at Chicago police’s “black site” known as Homan Square filed the first civil rights suit over the police warehouse.
John Vergara, Carlos Ruiz and Jose Garcia claim they were arrested without cause by defendant officers J.V. Dal Ponte, B. Srisutch, P.J. Nigro, and others on Sept. 29, 2011.
The Homan Square site made national headlines this month when several alleged victims claimed Chicago police use it as a CIA-type jail, imprisoning, interrogating and abusing people there without paperwork that would show they were even arrested.
They plaintiffs say they were at Paseo Boricua Grocery and Deli in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, a drug-infested area, when armed officers entered wearing masks, ordered them to lie down and handcuffed them.
“Plaintiffs did not violate any law immediately prior to or during their detainment,” according to the complaint.
They say they were taken to the now-notorious police warehouse at South Homan Street and West Filmore Avenue, known as Homan Square. The facility’s existence was first brought to the public’s attention in February, when The Guardian began publishing a series on the alleged black site.
Brian Church, a member of the “ NATO 3 ” protesters, told the Guardian: “Homan Square is definitely an unusual place. It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”
According to the Guardian, no one taken to Homan Square is booked, and there is no way for a person’s family or attorney to locate them.
Church was the only former Homan Square detainee who agreed to speak with the Guardian – others refused for fear of police retaliation, the paper reported.
Vergara, Ruiz, and Garcia are the first to break their silence. They claim they were detained for eight to nine hours, handcuffed to the wall in a cell with no sink or toilet.
They say the officers threatened to charge them with a crime if they did not provide information, and tried to coerce false confessions.
“At no time did defendant officers read plaintiffs their Miranda rights,” and “defendant officers ignored multiple requests by plaintiffs to speak with an attorney,” even when Vergara specifically requested to speak with civil rights attorney Blake Horwitz, the plaintiffs say.
“The defendant officer(s) then asked plaintiff Vergara if he intended to tell Mr. Horwitz about his experience at Homan Square.
“The defendant officer(s) threatened plaintiff Vergara by saying, ‘If you’re going to tell Blake, I’m going to pin a case on you and everybody else in here.’
“Defendant officers offered to release plaintiffs if they agreed not to disclose their experience at Homan Square to an attorney and/or Blake Horwitz,” the complaint states.
Horwitz represents the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.
The men say they eventually were returned to the Paseo Boricua Grocery and Deli, after which officers drove by on a daily basis and threatened that they were watching them.
They claim this police intimidation kept them from filing a civil rights lawsuit earlier about their experience at Homan Square.
They seek punitive damages for false arrest, excessive force, failure to intervene, illegal search and civil conspiracy, and stated a Monell claim against Chicago.
“The plaintiffs would like the facility to be shut down,” Horwitz told the Guardian. “They’ll be seeking compensation for their injuries, and they’ll be asking that the officers be held liable and responsible for their actions, and for the officers to be punished.”
The lawsuit comes a day after Chicago Congressman Danny Davis and Cook County
Commissioner Richard Boykin hand-delivered a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting a Justice Department investigation into Homan Square.
Chicago police Commander Nicholas Roti, chief of the bureau of organized crime, resigned this month, after the Guardian series began, the newspaper reported. The Guardian said he was in charge of narcotics and gang-related investigations, and commanded a unit that operated out of Homan Square.
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