Reverse convictions by tortured confessions

February 23, 2012

Chicago—Twenty-four Black men are still in jail almost 40 years after the first allegations of torture were brought against the Chicago Police Department.

In every case, their confessions were obtained illegally through torture.

On Nov. 5, 30 people, including the mother of Javan Deloney and family members of four or five other torture victims, met at the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) and developed strategies for bringing these cases up.


Mark C. Clements, an activist who was himself tortured as a 16-year-old and released only two years ago after spending 28 years in jail, spoke about Javan Deloney, whose request for a hearing was continued over and over in the court of Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr.

Joey Mogul, an attorney, said tortured confessions are illegal by Illinois, U.S., and international law. They must be suppressed even if the confessor is guilty. But for these 24 Black men, their confessions were not suppressed, though many told the court they had been tortured.

Attorney Standish Willis pointed out that the NAACP brought U.S. mass incarceration and the death penalty as human rights violations before an international body. Two months after the UN instructed the U.S. to end torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Chicago, the FBI arrested Jon Burge, a Chicago police detective who oversaw the torture of scores.

Mr. Willis made many suggestions regarding local organizing. He also said a legal proceeding can force the judge to bring cases forward. We should prosecute the Police Brotherhood for their staunch denial and “code of silence” regarding criminal activity. Messages about Burge torture can be sent out over social media.


A major concern was torturers who have not been brought to justice: John Byrne, Peter Dignan, John Yucaitis, and others. The Goldston and Sanders reports stated that police torture in Chicago was planned, not spontaneous, and was designed to elicit confessions regardless of guilt and reserved for Blacks only.

The National Coalition of Black Lawyers states:

No less than seven independent investigations and numerous courts have concluded that the detectives under Burge’s command committed acts of torture, which included electrically shocking men’s genitals, ears and lips with a cattle prod or an electric shock box, referred to as ‘the n— box,’ suffocating individuals with plastic bags, mock executions, and beatings with telephone books and rubber hoses to extract confessions.

Yet not a single officer has ever been prosecuted for these acts, which violate criminal laws, the victims’ Constitutional rights, and international treaties banning the use of torture.

Willis continued, we want to get rid of the statute of limitations on torture. By the time Burge was brought to trial, his crimes were more than 20 years old and he could not be tried for them. He was convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI (the federal prosecutor had to prove he had tortured in order to prove he lied about it). His sentence of four years means he could be free before the 24 men.

At the meeting we resolved to demand reparations for the men and their families. Besides the 24, many more have served long sentences and suffer lasting effects of torture, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Torture cases involved more than 110 Black men and women; 11 ended up on death row. They and their families deserve compensation, counseling and education for their children.

Finally, there is Richard M. Daley. From his tenure as Cook County States Attorney in 1981 to his retirement as Mayor of Chicago in 2010, Daley gave a wink and a nod to the police department, said Willis. His successor in the chief prosecutor’s office, Richard Devine, turned a blind eye to the complaints. The current States Attorney, Anita Alvarez, is dragging her heels when it comes to pursuing evidentiary hearings for the 24 men.

Chicago will continue to suffer if officials refuse to bite the bullet on past crimes that have been ignored. Standing up to Richard M. Daley would not be easy, but it must be done.

Willis ended his talk by saying, “If we continue to come together and organize, victory is certain.”

For a history of 35 years of Chicago police torture accusations, go to


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