Police torture cases from Daley era vex Chicago's Rahm Emanuel
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said this week that Chicago will pay to defend former Mayor Richard M. Daley in lawsuits alleging police torture during his tenure. Wrong message, say critics.
A police torture saga that has cast a long shadow over Chicago City Hall for nearly three decades is resurfacing – and it is reviving criticism that the new administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel is too tied to former Mayor Richard M. Daley and the excesses of his tenure.Skip to next paragraph
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The murmurings began this week, when Mayor Emanuel said Chicago is obliged to pay the legal costs of Mr. Daley, a defendant in several civil lawsuits alleging that police abused suspects in criminal cases to obtain confessions. The cases allege that Daley is among those who conspired to cover up a systemic pattern of police torture when he was Cook County state's attorney, and later as Chicago's mayor.
The city is legally bound to pay for Daley's defense costs because he is being sued for actions that allegedly took place during his official capacity as mayor, Emmanuel said. It's not known what those costs will be, but there is no limit on either the amount or the duration of the city's obligation, says Jennifer Hoyle, director of public affairs for the city’s legal department.
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The ensuing outcry appears to have caught the new mayor somewhat by surprise. Critics complain that, with a $635 million budget deficit, Chicago can scarcely afford to spend untold new sums to mount legal defenses for Daley and other city officials named in the torture lawsuits. Settling with plaintiffs, they suggest, might yield a more judicious – and less expensive – outcome. Moreover, Emanuel's announcement served to remind Chicagoans of the mayor's close ties to Daley, dating back to the days when Emanuel was chief fundraiser for Daley's mayoral campaign, and, some say, gave the appearance that the new mayor was acting to protect and defend the old one.
The whole stewpot of police torture cases is simmering anew because a federal judge recently ruled that Daley can be deposed as a defendant in a civil suit brought by Michael Tillman, who was exonerated and released from prison in 2010 after serving 23 years. Mr. Tillman’s case is one of more than 100 involving suspects who allege police torture under Jon Burge, a disgraced former Chicago police commander who is now serving time in federal prison.
The Burge saga has long been a sore spot for the black community, which believes the city has not showed sufficient accountability to the mistreated suspects, all of whom are black.
Daley is one of dozens of defendants in at least eight torture-related civil lawsuits still pending against the city, says Ms. Hoyle, of the law department. The city has no choice but to contract with private firms to represent the defendants, she says. The cases are so complicated, involving so many allegations against so many public officials, that the city cannot in good conscience represent all of them adequately or without the appearance of conflict of interest. “Different groups of defendants may have different positions in regards to different claims, so legally we can’t represent all of them,” she says.
Chicago has already spent $43 million to defend ex-Commander Burge and other police officials involved in the scandals and to pay settlements to 10 victims. More than half that amount went for legal defense of Burge and others. Burge, who was convicted in 2010 of perjury and obstruction of justice, is serving five years in a federal prison in North Carolina. Because a majority of torture cases date from the mid- to late-1970s, the statute of limitations has run out, preventing prosecutors from pursuing more serious charges against Burge and the rouge band of police personnel who worked under him. [Editor's note: This paragraph has been modified to correct the number of people who have won settlements.]
Some critics say the city should settle with victims to finally put the matter to rest – for both moral and financial reasons.
“Continuing to defend the indefensible is not smart,” says Chicago Alderman Joe Moore. “I’m not suggesting we settle these cases without being mindful of the city’s fiscal health and sign a blank check. But, clearly, these people who were victims of Burge’s torture need to be compensated. To delay that justice for years is not a good thing.”