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Chicago Creates Reparations Fund For Victims Of Police Torture

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET.

The city of Chicago has become the first in the nation to create a reparations fund for victims of police torture, after the City Council unanimously approved the $5.5 million package.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the abuse and torture of scores of mostly black, male suspects in the 1970s, '80s and early '90s by former police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his detectives is a "stain that cannot be removed from our city's history."

"But," Emanuel says, "it can be used as a lesson of what not to do."

Today's unanimous vote in favor of the reparations fund is "an essential step in righting a wrong," he adds.

Burge and his "midnight crew" of detectives on the city's South Side used electric shock, beatings, suffocation and even Russian roulette to coerce confessions out of suspects. The city has already paid more than $100 million in judgments and legal settlements to some victims. The reparations fund will compensate up to 80 others and will provide them counseling, education and job training.

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Anthony Holmes, who served 13 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit, claimed at a recent City Council committee hearing that he was one of Burge's first victims, as reported by NPR's Cheryl Corley:

"In 1973, he [Burge] came to my house, kicked the doors in, threw me on the floor, put a shotgun to my head, knee in my neck. He said, '[Expletive], I'm going to kill you if you don't be still.' "

Holmes says he was shocked by officers and thought three or four times that he was dead.

Another victim, Darrell Cannon, was emotional as he testified, Corley reported. Cannon was arrested in 1983 and served 24 years in prison for murder, and was freed after a review board determined the evidence used to convict him was tainted. Cannon says that when he was arrested, three of Burge's officers placed a shotgun at his head and played a sort of one-target Russian roulette as they questioned him.

"The third time that I heard that click, the hair on the back of my head stood straight up because I honestly thought he had blew my brains out. When that didn't work, they tried to hang me by my handcuffs, which was cuffed behind my back."

The $5.5 million fund will provide up to $100,000 to each of those victims with credible torture claims who have not already received settlements. The Chicago City Council also will issue a formal apology to torture victims.

Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge walks into the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago in June 2010. He was convicted on all counts of an indictment charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice.
Alex Garcia / MCT/Landov
Former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge walks into the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago in June 2010. He was convicted on all counts of an indictment charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice.

The mayor has said it's time for "the city to own up to" its dark past and provide victims with closure.

"This is a stain on the history of the city and its reputation, and I thought it was essential to finally move forward," Emanuel said when the ordinance was introduced in April.

A Chicago police board investigation found evidence of torture under Burge and fired him in 1993, but no criminal charges were filed for the acts of torture. A special prosecutor appointed in 2002 spent four years investigating and found overwhelming evidence of torture by Burge and his "Midnight Crew" — but concluded that the statute of limitations had run out.

Finally in 2010, then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald filed federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Burge, alleging that Burge lied about torture under oath in civil lawsuit proceedings. Burge was convicted and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison.

He was released from a halfway house in February. He lives in Florida — and continues to collect a Chicago police pension.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.
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