A former high-ranking Chicago police officer, long accused of torturing suspects while they were in custody, has been indicted by federal authorities.
Former Commander Jon Burge, 60, was taken into custody without incident at his Florida home Tuesday morning on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury, stemming from responses given in a 2003 written interrogation. U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald announced the indictment Tuesday in Chicago.
“According to these charges, Jon Burge shamed his uniform and shamed his badge,” Fitzgerald said.
The charges come less than a month before the statute of limitations on the alleged perjury runs out. Fitzgerald added that Burge may not be alone in being charged.
“We have a reason to believe that other people may have lied about that torture and abuse. We intend to pursue that part of the investigation moving forward,” he said.
The 2003 investigation in question is the result of a civil lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in Chicago. The lawsuit-Hobley v. Burge-alleged that in January 1987, Madison Hobley was coerced into a confession at Area 2 police headquarters. Burge’s written responses were given during discovery for that case.
The Chicago City Council voted in January of this year to settle the suit, paying four men who alleged they were torture victims a combined $19.8 million. The actual indictment issued Tuesday does not name specific incidents of torture that Burge was aware of or participated in. He has faced accusations of abusing more than 200 men, mostly African-American, between 1972 and 1991. However, Fitzgerald did say that those incidents would be dealt with when the case goes to trial.
The specific statements prosecutors contend Burge falsely gave are denying both participating in torture techniques and possessing knowledge of torture. Fitzgerald contends prosecutors will dispute this statement by proving torture not only occurred, but Burge either participated in it or was aware of its continued practice.
“As of last Thursday when we brought the indictment, we felt comfortable we could prove torture and abuse, and that his statement was a lie,” Fitzgerald said.
He was later asked if a “code of silence” among officers aware of the alleged torture prevented indictments in the past. Fitzgerald responded that such a code would not prevent indictments in the future.
“If their lifeline is to hang on to a perceived code of silence, they may be hanging on air,” Fitzgerald said. “Anyone who thinks they can lie in a grand jury or rely on a code of silence is taking a great risk.”
Burge served as a Chicago police officer from 1970 until his firing in 1993. A series of lawsuits beginning in 1991 brought to surface allegations that Burge and his subordinates participated in the torture of suspects. And while the statute of limitations for prosecuting possible acts of torture has long since passed, federal prosecutors contend Burge could still be held to account for his actions.
“People who commit multiple crimes, if you can’t prosecute them for one, there is nothing wrong with prosecuting them for another, Fitzgerald said. “Al Capone went down for taxes; that’s better than him going down for nothing.”
Burge appeared before a federal judge in Tampa, Fla. on Tuesday afternoon. He was released on $250,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in federal court in Chicago on Monday, Oct. 27.
Jon Burge timeline
1970: Burge becomes a Chicago police officer
1972-1974: Burge works as a detective assigned to Area Two
1977-1980: Burge holds the rank of sergeant assigned to Area Two
1981-1986: Now holds rank of police lieutenant, supervising detectives in Area Two
1982: Andrew Wilson arrested by Burge for the murder of two Chicago police officers
1986: Wilson files civil suit in federal court claiming he was tortured
1991-2003: Series of civil lawsuits filed in Chicago alleging Jon Burge and other police officers participated in acts of torture and physical abuse of people in custody
1991: Burge is suspended from the Chicago Police Department
1993: Burge is fired as police commander
1996: Wilson wins third civil trial
2003: Burge provides written answers in lawsuit concerning interrogations of suspects
2008: Burge arrested in Florida for perjury and obstruction of justice
Medill News Service
Chicago Police says about indictment
The Chicago Police Department has always supported the special prosecutor’s investigation and has been committed to cooperating at every level. What occurred 20 years ago should not tarnish or diminish the dedicated service of 13,500 men and women who do a good job protecting the citizens of Chicago everyday. Today’s news reinforces even further our obligation as law enforcement to reassure the public that the department is moving forward in the right direction, and that we continue to place emphasis on accountability and internal discipline like never before.
Statement Tuesday by Chicago Police News Affairs