Police Commander Burge Loses Torture Lies Appeal

     CHICAGO (CN) – The 7th Circuit upheld the conviction of a police commander who “presided over an interrogation regime where suspects were suffocated with plastic bags, electrocuted until they lost consciousness, held down against radiators, and had loaded guns pointed at their heads during rounds of Russian roulette.”
     Jon Burge oversaw the Chicago Police Department’s Area 2 headquarters on the city’s South Side. He was fired in 1993 after it was revealed that police in the violent crimes section had been torturing suspects to obtain confessions.
     Though the statutes of limitation largely shielded Burge from being personally charged with police brutality, the abuse in his district gave rise to a number of civil lawsuits.
     In a 2003 complaint, Madison Hobley claimed that Area 2 officers had beaten and suffocated him with a typewriter cover in 1987. Hobley deposed to prove that Chicago police had a policy of torturing suspects, but Burge denied participating in or knowing of the abuse.
     “I have not observed nor do I have knowledge of any other examples of physical abuse and/or torture on the part of Chicago police officers at Area 2,” he wrote in response to an interrogatory.
     This response led to a 2008 federal indictment of Burge for obstruction of an official proceeding and perjury.
     At trial, the jury “heard overwhelming evidence” that Burge lied about the use of torture.
     “The witnesses described how they were suffocated with plastic bags, electrocuted with homemade devices attached to their genitals, beaten, and had guns force into their mouths during questioning,” according to the 7th Circuit’s new ruling in the case.
     Other witnesses stated that Burge had bragged about the beatings and “did not care if those tortured were innocent or guilty because, as he saw it, every suspect had surely committed some other offense anyway.”
     Burge was found guilty of all counts and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in federal prison.
     A unanimous three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit affirmed Monday.
     The court rejected Burge’s numerous procedural challenges, including his attempt to dismiss two counts of the indictment.
     Noting that an “official proceeding” was defined in the statute as “a proceeding before a judge or court of the United States,” Burge pointed out that he had not answered the interrogatories “before a judge.” Thus, he argued, the obstruction charge must be dropped.
     “This is a novel interpretation of the statute, but one we must reject,” Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote for the appellate panel.
     She noted that the statute “only describes which types of proceedings can be considered ‘official,’ not where the criminal obstruction must occur.” (Emphasis in original.)
     Because the statute also covers document destruction, “it would be absurd to presume that Congress only intended to cover document destruction actually committed in a proceeding before a judge,” Williams added. “Very few defendants shred incriminating papers in plain view of a judge.”
     Burge also failed to show his statements were not “material” for the purposes of finding perjury since they were not used in Hobley’s trial.
     “Materiality does not turn on whether Burge’s answers were ‘used’ in the Hobley trial,” Williams wrote. “His false statements could not be introduced precisely because he had concealed relevant evidence.”
     “The question before the jury was whether Burge’s false statement had ‘the natural tendency to impede, influence or dissuade’ the outcome of Hobley’s civil suit – not whether the suit’s outcome actually turned on Burge’s lies,” she added.
     The panel similarly rejected all other technical defenses, finding that Burge received a fair trial.
     Now 65 years old, Burge is currently incarcerated at a federal prison in North Carolina.

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