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Judge: Daley can be sued over alleged torture by police

Mayor Daley listens to tributes at South Shore International College Prep High School as part of his neighborhood farewell tour, Thursday, May 12, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

For the second time in four months a federal court judge has ruled former Mayor Richard M. Daley can be sued in an ongoing legal battle over allegations of police torture.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer on Wednesday denied a motion to reconsider her prior ruling, setting the stage for Daley to be deposed by attorneys representing men who claim they were tortured by a small band of Chicago Police officers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Attorneys for Daley, paid for by the city, appealed the judge’s July ruling only to be turned down in an 11-page motion filed Wednesday.

Attorneys for Daley had successfully fought an earlier deposition in anticipation of the judge’s ruling.

“We have patiently awaited this decision before proceeding to question Daley under oath at a deposition,” said plaintiff’s attorney G. Flint Taylor. “Now the path is clear, Daley has no legitimate grounds to object, so we will [Thursday] subpoena Daley for questioning in early December.”

Taylor represents Michael Tillman, who spent 23 years in prison for a murder in which he was later exonerated. In her July ruling, Judge Pallmeyer wrote that Daley could be listed as a defendant in the Tillman civil lawsuit. Among those named in the suit are Jon Burge, 63, a former police commander now in prison, as well as former officers under his command. The former mayor is also named.

As Cook County state’s attorney from 1980 to 1989, Daley is granted prosecutorial immunity. But as mayor, Pallmeyer ruled, Daley doesn’t have the same privilege.

The lawsuit charges that Daley was part of a conspiracy to cover up the torture allegations.

In her original ruling, Pallmeyer wrote that Tillman had “presented more than ‘naked assertions’ and his conspiracy claim survives.”

In her ruling denying the motion to reconsider, Pallmeyer concluded “that Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that Daley, as Mayor, participated in a conspiracy that included the concealment of exculpatory evidence.”

City Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew said the city is determining what to do next.

“The order raises complicated legal issues that we are examining,” Drew said.

Taylor said Tillman is “very, very happy” because of the ruling and “looks forward to his lawyers questioning Daley for his decades-long role in the police torture scandal.”

Tillman was released from prison last year after special prosecutors for Cook County found there was no reliable evidence against him. Tillman originally confessed to murder but only, he says, after he was tortured by officers under the command of Jon Burge.

In an August interview, Tillman recalled that during his 1986 interrogation, “I was hit with the fist, the phone book, I had a plastic bag placed over my head repeatedly. I had a gun put to my head while I was on my knees. I had a 7-Up poured down my nose. I was hit in the leg with a flashlight. I felt like a slave, tied to a tree that couldn’t do nothing ’cause I was always bound.”

Burge was convicted last year of obstruction of justice and lying in a civil suit when asked if he knew about or participated in police torture. He is currently serving a 41/2-year sentence in a federal prison in North Carolina.

Tillman’s attorneys argue Daley knew of police torture dating back to the 1982 case of convicted cop killers Andrew and Jackie Wilson. Taylor said that Daley, as state’s attorney, received a letter from the head physician at Cook County Jail that stated Andrew Wilson had been beaten.

In the years to follow, more than 100 other men, virtually all African-American, claimed they, too, had been subjected to police torture. Both sides in the Tillman case are to appear in Federal Court on Friday.

Carol Marin is a Sun-Times columnist. Don Moseley is an NBC5 producer.