Counsel to probe torture by police Special prosecutor to target charges linked to Burge

Counsel to probe torture by police
Special prosecutor to target charges linked to Burge

By Steve Mills and Janan Hanna
Tribune staff reporters
Published April 25, 2002

After years of claims that Chicago police detectives under former Cmdr. Jon Burge had tortured suspects, Cook County’s chief Criminal Court judge took the first step Wednesday toward resolving the issue by appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations.

Judge Paul Biebel said a special prosecutor was needed because State’s Atty. Richard Devine has a conflict that threatens to leave an “appearance of impropriety.”

Devine, whose office had argued against the appointment of a special prosecutor, once was a partner in the law firm that defended Burge against torture charges, and on one occasion he appeared in court to represent Burge.

The special prosecutor’s inquiry will investigate allegations dating to 1973 that occurred at two South Side police stations where Burge was a commander and that involved such torture methods as electric shock, Russian roulette, attempted suffocation with typewriter covers and beatings.

The allegations against Burge and some of his detectives have been among the most controversial in the Cook County justice system and resulted in Burge’s firing in 1993 for torturing cop-killer Andrew Wilson.

The allegations have touched the state’s Death Row debate, with a dozen condemned inmates claiming they were tortured by Burge or his detectives, and they have become politically sensitive because much of the alleged torture occurred while Mayor Richard M. Daley was state’s attorney.

Biebel appointed as special prosecutor Edward J. Egan, a former high-ranking prosecutor and Illinois Appellate Court judge, and named Robert Boyle, also a former high-ranking prosecutor now in private practice, as Egan’s assistant.

Public interest attorneys said the naming of a special prosecutor was both historic and long overdue, and said they hoped Egan, Boyle and their staff finally could get to the bottom of torture allegations that have dogged the Cook County criminal justice system.

The attorneys said the muscle of a special prosecutor with subpoena power might be able to penetrate the silence among detectives and other officers that has long surrounded the torture allegations. Some of the officers accused in the alleged torture remain on the force.

“It’s a moment of special significance,” said attorney Flint Taylor, who was among those who sought the special prosecutor. Taylor has represented several defendants including Death Row inmate Aaron Patterson who have charged detectives abused them.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll finally, through the use of the grand jury and some aggressive investigation, bring the total truth to light,” Taylor said.

An `open secret’

Locke Bowman, an attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago, said the torture at the South Side stations has long been an “open but unacknowledged secret” in Cook County.

“This really is the first formal occasion for the system to be examined to find out what happened at Area 2 and Area 3 and to find out what’s been going on since then to cover it up,” Bowman said.

Devine had claimed that the statute of limitations on any possible crimes committed by Burge or his detectives had run out, making prosecution impossible.

Devine, in an interview, reiterated that view and said he would have sought appointment of another prosecutor had he not concluded the statute had run out.

“I have no quarrel about the conflict of interest issue,” Devine said. “My only difference of view was that I believed that the statute of limitations had passed on these. That’ll be something for the special prosecutor to decide.”

Devine said his office would not appeal Biebel’s decision, and he pledged the prosecutors’ full cooperation with Egan and Boyle, whom he described as “men of great experience and high integrity.”

Police spokesman Pat Camden said the Police Department “will continue to cooperate with this investigation as they have done in all previous stages.”

Burge, reached at his home in Florida, declined to comment.

Suspects and their attorneys have made torture allegations against Burge and more than a dozen Chicago detectives since the 1980s, but in most cases they were investigated as isolated cases and either could not be proved or were found to be without merit.

An inquiry by the Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards found that torture and abuse under Burge was common, though it based its finding on a review of the complaints rather than an in-depth investigation of the allegations.

The Goldston Report, as it is called, cited about 50 cases of individuals who were tortured.

U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur once said that it was “common knowledge that in the early to mid-1980s, Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and many officers working under him regularly engaged in the physical abuse and torture of prisoners to extract confessions.”

More recently, a top police official in 1998 closed a number of the cases that named Burge and his detectives, even though the Office of Professional Standards had reinvestigated some of them in the early 1990s and, reversing the findings of earlier investigations, determined that some of the allegations were true.

Egan, in an interview, said he was committed to conducting a thorough investigation and realizes that the statute of limitations question is crucial.

“We have not made any conclusions as to the applicability of it, but we know after reading the pleadings it definitely is a question,” he said.

For the investigation to yield indictments, Egan and Boyle will have to find evidence that there has been an ongoing conspiracy to commit and cover up torture, or that police officers lied on the witness stand about the torture these last three years and, consequently, were guilty of perjury.

“The mere fact that people who have been implicated in these activities have denied that they did illegal acts is not enough,” said Ronald Allen, a Northwestern University criminal law professor. “You will have to show an agreement between one or more individuals to accomplish the illegal result.”

Egan said he will consult with Devine and with the attorneys and others who sought the special prosecutor and could empanel a grand jury. Egan was given the authority by Biebel to hire a staff to conduct the investigation, which he said would take some time.

Good reputations

Both Egan and Boyle have reputations among their colleagues of fairness and integrity.

Egan is a native of Chicago. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from DePaul University. He was an assistant state’s attorney from 1951 to 1958 and returned to the office as first assistant state’s attorney under Daniel Ward in 1960.

Egan was first appointed to the appellate court by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1972 and was elected two years later. In 1975, he left the bench and made an unsuccessful bid as the Democratic candidate for Cook County state’s attorney.

He was again appointed to the appellate court in 1988 and elected in 1990, serving until 1996. He is semi-retired from the private law firm where he had worked since 1996.

Boyle, a graduate of Loyola University School of Law, took his first job as a Cook County assistant state’s attorney. He spent his last four years there as the deputy chief and chief of the criminal division.

Since 1970, he has been in private practice at the firm of Murphy & Boyle.