Another $9.3 million settlement added to mountain of Burge torture claims
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It’s been 25 years since former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was fired by the city for overseeing a “midnight crew” that systematically tortured African-American suspects.
Still, beleaguered Chicago taxpayers are paying the price in settlements, judgments, reparations and legal fees.
Now, another $9.3 million is being added to the $111 mountain of Burge-era debt that’s certain to get even higher.
The settlement will go to James Kluppelberg, who claims that Burge’s crew beat him into confessing to setting a 1984 fire that killed a woman and five children in Back of the Yards.
Kluppelberg spent nearly 25 years in prison, only to have his conviction reversed in 2012.
The settlement is on the agenda for Friday’s meeting of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
The 1984 fire in the 4400 block of South Hermitage killed 28-year-old Elva Lupercio and her five children between the ages of 3 and 10.
The breakthrough came when a man arrested for burglary — who claimed that his girlfriend had abandoned him to be with Kluppelberg — told police that his rival had set the fire.
In 2012, Cook County prosecutors dropped the charges against Kluppelberg, but opposed a certificate of innocence, claiming there wasn’t enough proof.
One year later, a Cook County judge overruled the state’s attorney’s office and granted the certificate of innocence.
Kluppelberg, then 48, shed tears of joy and relief at having his life “restored,” saying it was “like tons of weight being lifted off me.”
In 2013, Kluppelberg filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, claiming he had been tortured into confessing to the arson in a beating so severe that he urinated blood.
The accused burglar who fingered Kluppelberg subsequently recanted and said he lied in hopes that police would give him a break on his case.
Meanwhile, Kluppelberg’s attorneys accused prosecutors of withholding information — about an inebriated woman who had set a fire a block away on that same night — that could have led to another suspect.
For decades, Burge was accused of overseeing a group of officers who systematically tortured African-American suspects. The former Area 2 commander was finally brought to justice in 2011 when he was convicted of perjury for lying in civil lawsuits connected to that torture.
Burge was sentenced to 4 1/2 years for lying under oath about police torture, but he got time off for good behavior. He was released in 2015 from a halfway house near his home in the Tampa area.
Two years ago, cash-strapped Chicago doled out $5.5 million in reparations to 57 victims of the Burge police torture era after a painstaking claims process that did nothing to heal the wounds of more recent police shootings.
When the City Council agreed to make Chicago the nation’s first major city to pay reparations, there were high hopes that the $100,000 checks to individual torture victims would restore public trust between citizens and police in the African-American community so undermined by Burge and his cohorts.
But damage done by the police dashcam video that showed white police Officer Jason Van Dyke pumping 16 shots into the body of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was black, had added a new and equally ugly chapter in the history of the Chicago Police Department.
So had the more recent police shooting of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and the accidental shooting of LeGrier’s neighbor, 55-year-old Bettie Jones.
Still, Mayor Rahm Emanuel argued that, before righting more recent wrongs in a Chicago Police Department — blistered in a report by the U.S. Department of Justice after a sweeping federal civil rights investigation — the city must heal wounds inflicted decades ago.
“Reparations is not a necessity. But it is a moral compunction and a moral reckoning to right a wrong. There is no statute of limitations on that,” Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times on that day.
Under siege for his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video, Emanuel was quick to point out that he was “not the mayor” during Burge’s reign of terror.
“It says that the city is willing to hold itself accountable and be responsible in fixing something and having the determination,” he said.
“This could have been done by anybody over thirty years. It could have been done at the time. It could have been done in the ’90s. It could have been done in the first decade of the 21st Century. In three years, we settled up legally, reparations and a verbal apology what hadn’t been done in three decades. It does indicate that I [am] willing to be accountable and willing to be held responsible.”