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Fix state law to ensure innocent men don’t rot behind bars

Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge | AP file photo

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Here’s an absurdity in Illinois law that has to end.

If one cop tortured you into confessing, authorities will take a careful second look at the case to see if you are in fact innocent.

But if a different cop tortured you, too bad. No one wants to hear about it.

That’s the effect of judicial rulings upheld Friday by the Illinois Appellate Court. The court ruled that the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, which was set up to investigate claims of police torture, may look only at cases involving former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge or police officers working under him. When the commission meets on Wednesday it will discuss what to do with about 130 cases of alleged torture by different police officers in light of the court’s ruling.

EDITORIAL

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It would be outrageously unjust to walk away from those other cases. The Illinois Legislature should amend the TIRC law to explicitly state that all police torture cases are covered. State Sen. Kwame Raoul and state Rep. Arthur Turner are preparing legislation to do just that. When it is introduced, other lawmakers should give it their support. A similar bill passed in the state Senate last year but was bottled up in the House.

Chicago is still trying to come to grips with an era when some police officers habitually beat and tortured suspects to get confessions. A special report found Burge and his “Midnight Crew” tortured suspects for more than two decades. Taxpayers have paid millions upon millions of dollars to compensate torture victims.

But without careful re-examination of all cases of alleged police torture, we can’t know its extent or ensure that innocent men are not in prison, put there by statements extracted through torture.

Lawyer Joshua Tepfer, who represents a client who doesn’t qualify for relief because Burge had been transferred to a different police headquarters before the alleged torture, says, “It’s hard to imagine we are not just scratching the surface even after all these years of correcting the injustices.”

In the case the court ruled on Friday, Harvey Allen Jr. alleged that police kicked him, kneed him in the groin, held a sharp object to his throat, twisted his arms and dragged him up and down stairs to coerce a murder confession. In 2013, the Torture Commission ruled evidence of torture was sufficient to merit a closer look at Allen’s case. But because there were no links to Burge or his subordinates, the appellate court overruled the commission.

On Tuesday, Sen. Raoul said, “I think it is unconscionable that they found credible evidence of torture, but the status of the law says we should just shrug our shoulders.”

Instead of shrugging our shoulders, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to the bottom of these allegations once and for all.

A case study: Do sliced gym shoes hint at coerced confession?

In 2014, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission found strong evidence that convicted double murderer Jaime Hauad was tortured when first taken into police custody, and it found some evidence that he may be entirely innocent.

Given findings like that, someone in authority obviously should have taken a closer look, but the case hit a brick wall because the wrong cop allegedly committed the torture.

Hauad said the cop who beat him into confessing was Joseph Miedzianowksi, who went on to be labeled the most corrupt cop in Chicago history and is serving a life sentence. But under judicial rulings, the commission can act only if the torture was committed by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge or detectives who worked under him.

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So Hauad, convicted 17 years ago of killing two Maniac Latin Disciples outside an Avondale bar, continues to serve a life sentence with no chance of parole. An attempt to get his case overturned through the normal post-conviction channels has gone nowhere.

Hauad claims police cut off the fronts of his gym shoes with a paper cutter and threatened to cut off his toes next if he didn’t confess. He also says he was beaten. Police photos show Hauad’s gym shoes at first were in normal condition but later did in fact have their toe sections severed.

In 2001, a witness told the FBI he saw a different man commit the double murder for which Hauad was convicted. And a surviving victim said he falsely placed Hauad near the shooting.

That’s a long way from proving Hauad innocent. But leaving such cases in limbo because of a quirk in the law is indefensible.

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