Chicago pursues ‘two-sided’ strategy to acknowledge police abuse under former police commander Jon Burge, filing claims
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The filing in the U.S. District Court in Chicago on behalf of nearly 50 civic, business and religious leaders says the approach only delays payments and costs the city tens of millions in legal fees that could otherwise be spent on social programs or a reduction in taxes.
The case is in a lawsuit brought by 55-year-old black man James Gibson, who was released in 2019 after serving 29 years behind bars when courts found officers under police commander Jon Burge tortured Gibson into s involved in the murder of two men in 1989, including by driving a hot iron through Gibson’s arm. Gibson was later granted a certificate of innocence.
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Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his successor, current Mayor Lori Lightfoot, are among those who have spoken publicly about how, between 1972 and 1991, Burge’s crew demanded confessions from at least 100 African-Americans, using electric shocks on their genitals, suffocating them with typewriter covers and stuffing guns into their mouths.
“The city’s two-sided approach of publicly admitting Burge’s long practice of torture, but then denying the existence of that same pattern when confronted with the civil rights claims of Burge’s victims, does not serves no one,” the filing reads.
The filing cites the Chicago Tribune as reporting that the city, from 2004 through early 2019, spent more than $27 million in fees and expenses for outside attorneys in lawsuits related to Burge. In 2019, the city and county of Cook spent nearly $140 million in taxpayer dollars on settlements and various legal fees for torture cases related to Burge, according to the filing.
According to the filing, some two dozen lawsuits filed by Burge’s victims against the city, with high-priced law firms hired to defend the city, have dragged on for three to six years. Gibson fought the city in court for three years without a resolution.
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“This litigation game steals valuable time from innocent people like Mr. Gibson, who have already lost decades of their lives to Burge’s torture machine,” says the filing, submitted by the Washington-based attorney, DC, Jeetander T. Dulani.
A message seeking comment from the city’s legal department on Thursday was not immediately returned, although in an initial response to Gibson’s 2019 lawsuit, city prosecutors strongly denied that Burge and his officers routinely engaged in torture of suspects and that the city had turned a blind eye to these abuses.
Dulani said in a phone interview that he can’t know for sure what motivates the city to fight such cases so tenaciously.
“They may believe that by prolonging the litigation they can reduce the amount of money they will pay – either because people (suing them) will give up or accept less money,” he said.
Gibson’s attorney, Andrew M. Stroth, said later Thursday that the city doesn’t appear to have considered the consequences of spending millions “on indefensible cases.”
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“If the city has done any kind of analysis, … it’s clearly wasting taxpayers’ money and they don’t have a cohesive strategy” on these lawsuits, Stroth said.
The filing, a friend of the court filing from parties not directly involved in the case, asks U.S. District Judge Sara Ellis to grant Gibson’s motion to declare a pattern and pattern of police abuse linked to Burge. a proven fact. This could relieve Gibson and others of having to spend money and time, sometimes years, repeatedly proving such a scheme in court. The determination of the amount of compensation would always be contentious.
Ellis earlier gave the city until June 17 to respond to Gibson’s motion. She said she would rule on November 1.
“If the city is allowed to continue to deny Burge’s pattern of torture in court while ignoring his public admissions to the same pattern, police abuse will continue,” Thursday’s filing said. He adds, “The city’s public apology for the two-decade-long pattern of torture by Jon Burge and his sidekick is meaningless if the city continues to deny that same pattern in court.”
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The 47 community leaders who signed named in the friendly court filing ranged from Mark Kaufman, executive chairman of Illinois-based orthopedic rehabilitation services chain Athletico Physical Therapy, to Chicago priest activist Michael Pfleger.
Burge was fired in 1993 after determining he had tortured a murder suspect. He was sentenced to prison in 2011 for lying in a civil case about his actions. It was too late to criminally charge him with torture. Burge spent 4 years in prison and house arrest before dying in 2018 at age 70.
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