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Victims of police misconduct skeptical of Justice report’s impact

Survivor Darrell Cannon speaking after a hearing on reparations for survivors of alleged torture by Police Cmdr. Jon Burge

“The only thing I can say to that report is that it only confirms, for about the hundredth time, that Chicago police have been outrageous,” said Darrell Cannon, who was tortured by detectives working for former Cmdr. Jon Burge. | Sun-Times file photo

One said he felt “vindicated.”

Another said police reform is still “doomed to fail.”

They are people who have been wrongfully convicted or whose family members have been the victims of overzealous officers. And many are skeptical of City Hall’s agreement with the Justice Department to negotiate a court-enforceable reform agreement, as well the new 164-page report that found the Chicago Police Department engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force.

“The only thing I can say to that report is that it only confirms, for about the hundredth time, that Chicago police have been outrageous,” said Darrell Cannon, who was tortured by detectives working for former Cmdr. Jon Burge. “They have been wild. They have been crazy. They have flaunted the law.”

The investigation by the Justice Department’s civil rights division covered the most recent four-year period, and it set out to determine whether systemic deficiencies or practices led CPD to engage in a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct. It ultimately found CPD violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in part, because of “severely deficient training procedures” and “accountability systems.” The deal between City Hall and the feds could lead to a court-appointed independent monitor of CPD.

“We need to do better,” Supt. Eddie Johnson said during a press conference Friday. “And you have my promise and commitment that we will do better.”

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Despite the promises of reform from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Johnson and others, Senetra Cross does not have high hopes. Her brother, Calvin Cross, was gunned down by police in May 2011 at 124th and Wallace. He was 19. His family filed a federal lawsuit with the help of attorney Torri Hamilton, which ended with a settlement in 2015, records show. Senetra Cross said she thinks the Justice Department effort is “a way to pretty much get everyone to be quiet about what’s going on right now.”

“Chicago police officers have been getting away with murdering people for years,” Cross said.

Janet Godinez said Friday’s announcement took her back to July 2015. That’s when her younger brother, Heriberto Godinez, died while in police custody. Janet Godinez said the report has left her “thinking of how things could have been different if the police would have acted differently.”

“The use of force that they used on my brother or anyone else was unnecessary and unjustifiable,” Janet Godinez said. “It hurts a lot. But in a way, I feel hopeful that maybe in the future my children, the new generation, won’t have to go through what we have gone through with the police.”

Before she left office, former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced she would not file criminal charges over Heriberto Godinez’s death. Janet Godinez and her lawyer, Jeffrey Granich, have filed a federal lawsuit against the city that is still pending. But the family has previously won a verdict of excessive force, unlawful entry, false arrest and failure to intervene against two officers in a separate case, records show.

The team that led the latest investigation of CPD did not reach back into the dark chapters deeper in the department’s past, such as the torture by Burge and his “midnight crew.” But Cannon said they should have. The legacy that Burge left “set the foundation” to let other officers feel like they can act with impunity, he said.

Eric Caine, who landed a $10 million settlement from the city in 2013 after being beaten into a confession by Burge and his crew, said the new report “seems to have a little teeth to it.” But he also said any reform is “doomed to fail” because of the “mindset and the culture that the department has embraced.”

“When they see something clearly wrong, they will not admit it’s wrong,” Caine said.

But Mark Maxson saw Friday’s announcement differently.

“I feel pretty much vindicated today,” Maxson told the Sun-Times.

Maxson’s attorneys, Larry Dreyfus and Elliot Zinger, have described their client as “one of hundreds of African-American men in Chicago who were tortured into giving false confessions by Burge-era officers.” He was released from Stateville Correctional Center in September after DNA evidence showed he was wrongfully convicted of a 1992 murder.

Maxson said it’s possible the Justice Department’s investigation could lead to real reform if it holds accountable the officers who are responsible for constitutional violations. But he said that’s not every member of the department.

“I don’t believe that all policemen are bad,” Maxson said. “You always have a rotten apple here and there in every bunch.”