Editorial: Speed up wheels of justice on police torture cases

SHARE Editorial: Speed up wheels of justice on police torture cases

G. Flint Taylor (left) and Locke Bowman, attorneys for Illinois prisoners who say they were tortured into false confessions and wrongly convicted under former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge’s watch, at Cook County Criminal Court this week. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media

When the wheels of justice turn slowly, we always fear they’ll grind to a halt completely.


Progress has been made on two efforts in recent months to learn whether innocent men are in Illinois prisons to this day because of statements extracted through police torture, but there has been even more unnecessary delay. In the name of justice, let’s get cranking.

The first effort is a review by court-appointed special master David Yellen, the dean of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. On the basis of work by Yellen’s team, Chief Cook County Criminal Courts Judge Paul P. Biebel Jr. has assigned lawyers to four inmates who say they were tortured, and hearings will be held. But 13 additional cases Yellen brought to Biebel are on hold, and Yellen still has about 100 more claims of torture to examine.

The second effort to get to the bottom of atrocities by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his “Midnight Crew” of underlings, as well as possible torture by other police officers, is the work of the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission. But the commission faces two major hurdles. First, Gov. Bruce Rauner withdrew the nominations of new board members, so the body lacks a quorum and can’t act on torture cases. Second, a Cook County judge ruled the commission can’t investigate police torture in cases unrelated to Burge.

Those hurdles should be kicked over. Rauner should appoint new commissioners immediately, and the Legislature should pass a bill introduced by state Sen. Iris Martinez and state Sen. Kwame Raoul that would make clear the commission can investigate police torture wherever it finds it.

No doubt people are feeling “Burge fatigue.” Our city is still dealing with allegations of police torture that date back to the 1970s and 1980s. Legal bills have topped $100 million. But we can’t let up until every case is examined and settled fairly.

In a related development, the City Council on April 14 will hold a hearing on a long-stalled ordinance to create a $20 million reparations fund for Burge victims who didn’t get sufficient court settlements. Passing that ordinance would be a step forward.

We now know that, under Burge, men went to prison at least in part because of statements elicited through police torture. We need to get to the bottom of each case and ensure justice is done.

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