Former Police Commander Indicted for Lying About Police Brutality

By: Gerri L. Elder

A dark chapter in the history of the Chicago Police Department is making headlines with the indictment and arrest of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge.

The story reads like a crime novel, with the main character being a police officer climbing the ranks while becoming increasingly corrupt. Since being fired from the Chicago Police Department, Burge has also been the focus of personal injury and civil rights lawsuits which have alleged police brutality that occurred at his hands or under his authority.

Burge, now 60 years old, was arrested on October 21, 2008 at his home in Florida on federal obstruction of justice and perjury charges. He is accused of lying during a civil rights lawsuit five years ago about whether he and officers under his command tortured and physically abused criminal suspects in police custody.

According to an Associated Press report, the alleged abuse happened during the 1980s while Burge was the commander of South Side's Area 2 violent crimes unit. Civil rights lawyers who had pressed for a federal investigation of the torture and abuse allegations applaud the indictment, but say it was a long time coming.

Two years ago, two court-appointed special prosecutors investigated the allegations and found that many black criminal suspects had been seriously abused at Area 2 during Burge's leadership. These suspects were allegedly tortured until they confessed to crimes, regardless of actual guilt. The investigators determined that the abuse had happened so long ago that criminal charges against Burge and other officers for the torture are no longer possible due to the statute of limitations for such crimes.

MarketWatch reported that Burge has been charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury in an indictment that was returned under seal by a federal grand jury on October 16, 2008. The three-count indictment was unsealed after Burge's arrest. He will face prosecution in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

The indictment notes that Burge was a Chicago Police officer from 1970 to 1993. He worked in several jurisdictions in the city.

Burge served as a detective from 1972 to 1974, a sergeant from 1977 to 1980 and a lieutenant, commanding detectives working in Area Two violent crimes unit, from about 1981 to 1986. Later, he became the commander of the Bomb and Arson Unit and after that served as the commander of Area Three detectives. In 1991 Burge was suspended by the Chicago Police Department, and in 1993 he was fired.

It is alleged that from 1981 to 1986, while Burge worked in Area Two, he was present for and at times participated in the torture and physical abuse of people who were in police custody. The indictment also alleges that during the time he worked as the lieutenant supervising Area Two violent crimes detectives, Burge was aware that the detectives whom he supervised were torturing and physically abusing suspects in their custody.

Torture, physical abuse and other use of excessive police force by police officers is prohibited by state and federal law, and is also against Chicago Police Department regulations.

Beginning in 1991, a series of personal injury lawsuits alleging police brutality were filed. These civil lawsuits allege that Burge and other detectives and police officers under his command participated in the torture and abuse of criminal suspects.

In the case of Hobley v Burge, et al., filed in 2003 in U.S. District Court in Chicago, it was alleged that the plaintiff, Madison Hobley, was a victim of police brutality. Police officers at Area Two headquarters reportedly tortured and physically abused him in order to coerce a confession. Hobley claimed in his civil lawsuit that police officers placed a plastic bag over his head until he lost consciousness.

The Hobley lawsuit also alleged that Burge was aware of a pattern of police brutality at Area Two police headquarters.

During the discovery process in the Hobley case, Burge was served with written interrogatories. Burge's written responses are the basis of the obstruction of justice and perjury charges he now faces.

The indictment alleges that in the Hobley case, Burge corruptly obstructed, influenced and impeded an official proceeding by signing affidavits containing false answers in response to two interrogatories during the Hobley case.

If Burge is convicted, he faces a statutory minimum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count of obstruction of justice. He could also receive a five year sentence if convicted of perjury and be fined $250,000 for each charge.

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