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Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge. | Sun-Times files
Late Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
Sun-Times files

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EDITORIAL: Enough with the delays in getting to bottom of police torture cases

This is no time to dismiss a special prosecutor and hand the job back to the state’s attorney’s office

The horrors of police torture in Chicago have been compounded by excessive delays in addressing it.

Further delays would be inexcusable.

It’s been 26 years since the Chicago Police Department Review Board voted to dismiss former Police Cmdr. Jon Burge on charges that he tortured Andrew Wilson to extract a confession to a double murder. We have long known that Burge and his “midnight crew” tortured at least 110 suspects from the 1970s through 1991. They administered electric shocks to the genitals, smothered them with plastic bags and beat them with phone books to elicit confessions.

We have learned that other cops engaged in misconduct as well.

Yet many cases of inmates who may have been convicted because of statements extracted through police misconduct remain unresolved.

Every one of those cases needs to be cleared up now.

On Tuesday, Judge LeRoy Martin ruled that the Cook County state’s attorney’s office no longer has a conflict of interest in handling cases that involve allegations of police torture by Burge, who died nearly a year ago, and his crew.

Since 2017, those cases have been handled by special prosecutor Robert Milan. Just this past April, Milan dropped criminal charges against a man who was sentenced to life in prison — based on tainted evidence from Burge detectives — for a 1989 double-murder in Englewood.

Martin’s ruling was a response to a request by lawyers representing Gerald Reed, whose double-murder conviction was vacated last year. Reed, who is awaiting a new trial, alleges he was a victim of torture by detectives who worked for Burge. His lawyers want all of special prosecutor Milan’s cases turned over to State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

We don’t doubt Foxx’s office would be fair-minded in handling these cases. Foxx’s record shows she is sensitive to police and prosecutorial misconduct. But in court on Tuesday, Assistant State’s Attorney Carol Rogala made the point that Foxx’s office already is handling 1,100 post-conviction cases and would need time “to get up to speed.”

Taking time to “get up to speed” when a special prosecutor is on the case now is a bad idea. As it is, it can take years for inmates to get a hearing after police torture has been documented. If innocent men are languishing in prison after all of these years because of police torture, that injustice must be ended now.

Already, there have been too many delays.

Former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez engaged in an unnecessary, lengthy and unsuccessful legal battle to bring her office back into the Burge cases. And in 2012, the Legislature temporarily stripped funding from the Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, which investigates allegations of police torture. The commission also was delayed — four times — because there were not enough appointed commissioners to make up a quorum or because of lengthy rule-making procedures.

Judge Martin may find it’s appropriate to turn some cases over to Foxx, particularly any in which Milan’s past association with the state’s attorney’s office might present a conflict. But the guiding principle must be to achieve justice as quickly as possible.

In many cases, we believe, that still requires the work of a special prosecutor.

Chicago Sun-Times

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