A lawsuit was filed Thursday raising allegations of illegal detention by the Chicago Police Department at the Homan Square facility similar to those first made in the British newspaper The Guardian.
The federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of John Vergara, Carlos Ruiz and Jose Garcia, alleges that in September 2011, the three men were arrested while in a Humboldt Park grocery store and deli by armed police officers wearing masks.
“At first, I thought it was a robbery,” said Vergara, at a news conference Friday held by the men’s attorney, Blake Horwitz. Vergara had stopped to get a cup of coffee.”
“It felt as if I was kidnapped from this restaurant,” Vergara said.
The three officers, the suit alleges, never told the men why they were arrested before they were taken to the Homan Square police facility on the West Side, where they were handcuffed to a bar in a cell wall for eight or nine hours.
They were denied access to an attorney, a bathroom and were not read their Miranda rights, the suit alleges. Only after threatening to file false charges against them and trying to coerce phony confessions did the officers let the men leave, on the condition that they would not tell anyone about their detention.
The three men spoke about their time in Homan Square only after The Guardian series was published, according to the suit. Horwitz acknowledged Friday that the events described in the lawsuit happened beyond the usual statute of limitations, but said there is case law to support filing the suit in the event the plaintiffs were threatened not to tell anyone — which is alleged in the suit.
The City of Chicago, which the suit states was complicit in the alleged abuses, was also named as a defendant.
“The innocent civilians brought to Homan Square were physically seized and essentially kidnapped by unidentified officers,” according to the suit. “These customs, as set forth above, were maintained and implemented unreasonably by official policy makers of the Defendant City of Chicago.”
In recent weeks, protests have been held calling for the closing of Homan Square, which also houses the police department’s Organized Crime Bureau, the Evidence and Recovered Property Section, its ballistics lab and the SWAT unit.
In The Guardian’s series, some have described Homan Square as a domestic equivalent of a CIA “black site.”
Brian Church, who was arrested during the NATO Summit in Chicago in May 2012 and convicted with two other men dubbed the “NATO 3,” told The Guardian that he was handcuffed to a bench in Homan Square for 17 hours while police interrogated him without access to an attorney.
The story — denied by the police department — described the site as an “off-the-books interrogation compound” where people have been questioned and beaten by the police while the arrests were kept out of booking databases.
Marty Maloney, a spokesman for the police department, previously told the Sun-Times that interviews are handled no differently at Homan Square than at other police facilities, such as the department’s 22 districts or its three detective headquarters.
“If lawyers have a client detained atHoman Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them,” Maloney previously said. “There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square.”
The Guardian reported Thursday that Nicholas Roti, chief of CPD’s bureau of organized crime, resigned in “the wake of Homan Square revelations” in Guardian articles. In fact, Roti, who retired March 15, had notified the police superintendent of his plans to leave the department “well before” the initial Guardian story about Homan Square was published on Feb. 24, police officials said. Roti left to become the chief of staff to the director of the Illinois State Police.