Which brings us back to Chicago, a city which has been slower to fully deploy the common use of the taser until now. (But, just for the record, the data show that 90 percent of all taser deployments
that do occur in the city are against African Americans males. Imagine that.) There are good reasons why Chicago hasn’t been a big taser city compared to others: It suffered one of the most heinous police corruption scandals in American history and it wasn’t only about money, it was about police abuse and torture, including the use of electro-shock to coerce confessions.
The torture practices began in the early ’70s but didn’t really come to light until the 1980s, when a police lieutenant by the name of Jon Burge
was accused of shooting pets, handcuffing subjects to stationary objects for entire days, and holding guns to the heads of minors in pursuit of a man suspected of killing a police officer. This caused a political uproar and several lawsuits but it wasn’t until 1989 that the public became aware of the extent of the torture
that Burge and his men had perpetrated for years on suspects while in custody:
Burge and other Chicago Police officers allegedly used methods of torture that left few marks. They were accused of slamming telephone books on top of suspect’s heads. There were also three separate electrical devices that Burge and his detectives were accused of using: a cattle prod, a hand cranked device, and a violet wand. They allegedly used a Tucker telephone, an old-style hand cranked telephone which generated electricity, and attached wires to the suspect’s genitals or face. According to veteran sergeant D. J. Lewis, this is a method of torture common in the Korean War, and usually results in a confession. Burge has denied ever witnessing such telephone torture procedures. The violet wand was said to be regularly placed either on the anus, into the rectum or against the victim’s exposed genitals. They also used stun guns and adapted hair dryers. Burge and officers under his command also allegedly engaged in mock executions, in putting plastic bags over heads, cigarette burnings and severe beatings. At one point he is alleged to have supervised the electrical shocking of a 13-year-old boy, Marcus Wiggins.
Burge and his men were all eventually cleared of those charges in civil trials and Burge went back on the job. A flurry of lawsuits and pressure from the press and international organizations such as Amnesty International resulted in the city finally deciding to review the issue, and Burge was finally fired.
By 1999, numerous death row convictions were called into question due to Burge and his cronies’ record of using torture to coerce confessions and the police department and local government’s unwillingness to confront the problem. In 2000, Republican Governor George Ryan halted all executions after it was found that 13 death row inmates had been wrongfully convicted as a result of these practices. The problem was found to be so pervasive, and confidence in the integrity of the system so damaged, that in 2003 Ryan commuted the death sentences of 167 death row prisoners. He pardoned four who had been shown to have been wrongfully convicted through confessions obtained by torture.
By 2006, it was clear that all along the trail of this torture scandal were city and county officials, including former mayor Richard Daley, who were found to have either covered up or turned a blind eye to what was happening for many years. Many lawsuits were filed and the city was held culpable for more than 20 million dollars in damages.
Burge quietly retired to Florida on his police pension, until 2008 when US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald indicted him on federal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in one of the civil cases. He was convicted and sentenced to 4 years in prison. He was released in 2014.
As you can see, this is not ancient history. The torture lasted for decades, the cover-up even longer. The repercussions from this horrific scandal continue to this day. Just last spring
, Rahm Emanuel himself initiated a $5.5 million fund to compensate victims who can prove they were tortured by Jon Burge. And he officially apologized on behalf of the city.
This past October it was revealed
that between 2004 and 2015, the Chicago PD detained and brutally interrogated over 7,000 prisoners in a secret detention facility without access to counsel:
That place was and is scary. It’s a scary place. There’s nothing about it that resembles a police station. It comes from a Bond movie or something,” said attorney David Gaeger, whose client was detained at Homan in 2011 after a marijuana arrest.
Today, Chicago is mired in the midst of yet another police scandal over the wanton killing of African American citizens and yet another coverup by the police department and city officials. Reforms are long overdue. But considering all that history, one would hope the civilian authorities would recognize that without a wholesale reorganization and reform of the department, passing out electro-shock devices to an agency with such an extreme propensity to use torture is a very, very bad idea.
Some law enforcement agencies could theoretically use tasers responsibly in the manner for which they were designed. The Chicago Police Department is not one of them. Its culture is clearly rotten to the core.