Friday, October 7, 2011

Jon Burge police torture legacy still haunts Chicago

For those who aren't aware, there were a lot of problems during the time that Jon Burge was police commander in Chicago. The following is just one of the many examples of that.

Chicago taxpayers will spend $1.25 million to compensate a man who spent 12 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit after allegedly being beaten and coerced into a false confession by detectives working under Jon Burge.

The body of 39-year-old Kathy Morgan was discovered in an abandoned and torched South Side building in October, 1990. The victim had been raped, beaten and strangled.

Eighteen months later, Harold Hill was questioned about Morgan’s murder after being arrested on an unrelated charge. A teenager at the time, Hill claims that he confessed only after being hit, threatened and force-fed a false version of events by Belmont Area detectives.

Hill’s 2006 lawsuit against the city initially named nine police officers as defendants, including Burge, the convicted former Area 2 commander who once worked at the Belmont Area.

Burge was subsequently dismissed from the case by a judge who determined that he had been suspended because of other torture allegations at the time of Hill’s confession.

One of the remaining eight officers was a detective working under Burge in the Belmont Area.

Cook County prosecutors dropped the case against Hill and his codefendant Dan Young Jr. in 2005 after DNA testing ruled them out as the offenders. Hill remained at Pontiac Correctional Center for another two years on an unrelated robbery conviction.

A new round of tests also discredited bite-mark evidence that was key to convicting the men. Tests on hair found on Morgan’s body and under her fingernails revealed two genetic profiles that did not match Hill or Young.

A $7 million report by special prosecutors concluded that Burge and his Area 2 underlings tortured criminal suspects for two decades while police brass looked the other way. But the report concluded it’s too late to prosecute because the statute of limitations has long since run out.

Burge was convicted last summer of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying in a civil court case when asked if he knew of the torture that went on under his watch. He is currently serving a 4 1/2-year sentence in federal prison.

The Burge case has already cost Chicago taxpayers more than $43 million in settlements and outside legal fees.

In mid-August, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was “working towards” settling outstanding police torture allegations against Burge because it’s “time we end” one of the ugliest chapters in the history of the Chicago Police Department.

“We have a future to build — not a past to settle. That’s how I look at it,” the mayor said at the time.

“How old is this now — 30 years old? It is time we end it.”

The Hill settlement was approved by the City Council’s Finance Committee Tuesday and is expected to pass the full Council on Wednesday.

Russell Ainsworth and Jon Loevy, the attorneys representing Hill, could not be reached for comment on the settlement.

On the day the lawsuit was filed, Loevy maintained that Hill was just one of a “whole wake” of defendants “victimized” by a band of Chicago Police officers whose alleged misconduct had been brought to light by DNA testing.

At the time, Hill recalled that he was “terrified” and “didn’t know what to do” when he confessed to the crime he did not commit.

“I was afraid they were going to kill me,” he said then.

One year after walking out of prison, Hill’s codefendant Dan Young Jr. died from injuries suffered in a hit-and-run crash on the South Side. He was 45.

The truth about Hill’s case might never have been known if not for the intuition and persistence of attorney Kathleen Zellner. She thought it was strange that a third man had given a nearly identical confession, but was released when police learned he was in jail at the time of Morgan’s death.

Zellner persuaded the Cook County state’s attorney’s office to split the costs of retesting the physical evidence in the case, which subsequently ruled out Hill and Young.

First assistant Corporation Counsel Leslie Darling told alderman that Chicago taxpayers were getting off easy. Past juries have typically awarded $1 million to $2 million a year for every year of incarceration for a crime the offender did not commit, she said.

Since 2005, the Independent Police Review Authority has been investigating the two police officers allegedly responsible for punching, kicking and choking Hill.

That’s not what troubled Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th).

“Clearly, these people who were convicted and incarcerated were not the offenders. So, the real murderers are still roaming around somewhere,” Burke said.