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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Police Torture Victims Seek Last Chance

CHICAGO (CN) - Attorneys seek new hearings for more than 100 imprisoned men who claim Chicago police officers, led by now-notorious Lt. Jon Burge, tortured them into confessing to crimes.

Class representatives Johnnie Plummer and Vincent Wade filed a class action petition against Illinois, on behalf of more than 100 prisoners who allegedly were coerced into confessing to crimes by former Chicago police officers Lt. Jon Burge, Sgt. John Byrne, and/or those working under their command.

The class claims that for four decades, Burge, Byrne, and their subordinates "systematically tortured confessions from African American men whom they arrested on the south and west sides of Chicago."

Each man was "subjected to racially motivated physical abuse - including electric shock, mock execution, suffocation with a plastic bag and beating - that caused him to inculpate himself involuntarily in a crime," according to the complaint.

Plummer says Burge's men forced him to confess to murder when he was 15 years old by threatening him, beating him with a flashlight, and pulling his hair.

Wade claims he was forced to confess to murder, home invasion, and armed robbery "after one or more of the interrogating officers smacked him on the nose with a flashlight, kneed him in the groin, punched him in the eye, and beat him on his chest with a baton and phonebook while his arms and legs were pinned down."

Both men have been in prison - Plummer for the past 21 years, and Wade for 28 - without a full and fair hearing into their claims, according to the complaint.

Although during class members' suppression hearings, the courts discredited the now-incarcerated victims' testimonies, "Given all that has come out over the course of the past 23 years regarding Burge and his practices, the detectives' denials can no longer be presumed to be honest," the petition states.

"There is a mountain of new evidence - culminating in Burge's federal court conviction - showing that torture and physical coercion was a routine and accepted occurrence under the command and supervision of Jon Burge and John Byrne. The cases of every alleged victim must be re-examined with fresh eyes in light of Burge's conviction and this mountain of evidence," the complaint states.

The class claims that unlike past cases involving corrupt law enforcement officers, "This petition merely seeks the establishment of a procedure to assure that every one of the still-incarcerated persons who has a credible claim that Burge, Byrne, or their men physically coerced him into confessing to the crime for which he was convicted is provided with a full and fair hearing into that allegation."

This may be the class's last resort, the petitioners say, as state funding for the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission was cut off in June.

"Unless the Illinois criminal justice system affords this necessary relief to this class of men, Burge's legacy will never be eradicated. This petition affords this court the opportunity to do what justice requires," the complaint states.

The class is represented by Locke Bowman, legal director of the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center of Northwestern University, and the People's Law Office.

A hearing has been set for Monday, Oct. 29.

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