U.S. Rep. Davis calls for federal probe into lockup hangings

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Annie Bradford, mother of Develt Bradford who died by suicide at South Side jail, during news conference where Lawyers are asking for Federal officials to investigate possible abuses at Area Two Police Headquarters, Wednesday, December 28, 2011. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis has called for a federal investigation of a pair of suicides that occurred within 96 hours of each other at a South Side police lockup last month.

Davis said he was “not accusing anyone of anything” but said he had “no choice except to call upon the highest level of legal investigatory authority in the country” to probe the deaths in custody of DeVelt Bradford and Melvin Woods.

Bradford’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the Cook County courts Tuesday, charging that Chicago Police failed to protect the 52-year-old following his arrest Nov. 15 on suspicion of murdering an Aldi supermarket security guard. Bradford’s body was found hanging by his underwear in a cell at the Area 2 lockup at 1:30 a.m. two days later.

On Nov. 21, 62-year-old Woods also used his underwear to commit suicide at the same location while he was being held in connection with a domestic battery, authorities say.

The Bradford family’s attorney, Sam Adam Jr., said at a press conference Wednesday he believes that video cameras covering the cells in which Bradford and Wood died were either not working or not turned on at the time of their deaths. He said that was “too much of a coincidence” at the location where notorious police Cmdr. Jon Burge presided over serial abuses of African-American prisoners in the 1980s.

“If I’m wrong and there is a video, let them show it to the family’s lawyers, or better yet to federal investigators,” Adam said, calling on U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to open a case.

A federal probe could be done in 60 days, while the lawsuit could take years to establish the truth, the Bradford’s other attorney, Vic Henderson, said, pointing to the decades it took Chicago to come to grips with the Burge scandal.

Henderson added that black men like Woods and Bradford rarely commit suicide, and that the timing of the deaths was suspicious. Calling the incidents “alleged suicides,” Henderson questioned whether an ongoing Independent Police Review authority would reveal the truth.

Sitting beside the attorneys, the congressman, and former Burge victim Mark Clements at the press conference, an emotional Linda Bradford fought back tears. “I’m very sad. I’m very disappointed in the way that my son had to go. I just want to know what really happened,” she said.

The office of the U.S. attorney declined to comment Wednesday. Chicago Police declined to comment on Davis’ request.

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