Keith Walker is haunted by the memory of three Chicago police officers who, he said, took turns calling him the N-word, beating him and connecting a battery to his arm to jolt him with electricity.
Now, he’s demanding accountability from the city of Chicago, Cook County and Chicago police officers involved in his arrest, prosecution and conviction, in a lawsuit filed Tuesday morning.
“I think everybody in the world should know that these people are still out here,” said Walker, 53. “I want justice. I’m starting this lawsuit today because I’m seeking justice for the people who treated me unjust — not like a human being.”
The lawsuit claims Walker was forced to sign a false confession to the murder of Shawn Wicks, a white teenager from Arlington Heights, after being physically and psychologically abused in 1991 by police officers under former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge. The suit also claims Chicago police officers and Cook County prosecutors fabricated and suppressed evidence, and city government officials concealed their knowledge of ongoing torture and abuse under Burge.
The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment and the office of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle did not provide a comment, citing pending litigation.
“When someone is convicted and spends 30 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, not only is there no justice for the victim and the victim’s family, but a man’s life is essentially destroyed, having the prime of his life kidnapped, basically, and thrown into a maximum security prison.” said Jon Loevy, one of Walker’s attorneys. “On the problem of wrongful convictions, the justice system needs to make reforms and, in this particular case, Mr. Walker needs justice.”
Sean Starr, another of Walker’s lawyers, said the case is typical of a corrupt criminal justice system and a city that hasn’t taken acknowledged and addressed systemic racism.
Burge, who died in 2018, was a commander on the South Side at Area 2. He headed a “midnight crew” of officers accused of systemic abuse that affected more than 100 African American suspects, starting in the 1970s and lasting into 1991.
“This entire country in the last 10 years is starting to come to terms with its racist past and its racist history,” Starr said. “It’s time the city of Chicago does that as well. These officers receive a pension. These officers retired with honors in some cases. It’s time the city of Chicago steps up and takes responsibility for its racist past of torture and abuse of Black men and women.”
Walker was 23 and living in the Back of the Yards when he was arrested for the murder of Wicks.
Walker was incarcerated for 29 years before the Illinois attorney general’s office dropped charges against him in August 2020.
“Everyone that tortured me, I want every last one of them punished,” Walker said.
His nephews — Santrell Henderson, 27, and Kendell Godfrey, 33, of Englewood — have said they’ve worked to help Walker understand how the world works today, teaching him how to use a modern cellphone and communicate with people after being institutionalized for more than half his life. It’s a slow process, but one Walker is committed to.
Walker is a father and grandfather and now resides in the South Shore area with family.