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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.

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“[Daley] should have taken a much more aggressive role to see to it that it never happened [again]. He had authority over all of these people, and he neglected that authority,” says Leonard Cavise, a DePaul University law professor who is a member of a state commission that reviews prisoner cases alleging police torture. Chicago's continued obligation to pay for legal defense of defendants is “an absolute scandal of the city finances,” he adds.

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The US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1993 upheld Chicago's legal obligation to pay for Burge's legal defense. The city is also obligated to pay for any judgments made against him, Hoyle says.

Mr. Cavise questions that a legal basis exists for those payments and says the city should have worked harder to detach itself from Burge and others involved in the cases.

“As soon as you put a plastic bag over somebody’s head, you’re not working for the police department anymore, you’re working for yourself, you’re a torturer. That’s the argument the city should have made years ago,” he says.

Tillman received a certificate of innocence in February 2010 after spending more than two decades in prison. He says he was water-boarded, suffocated with a plastic bag, and beaten by Burge and his team, which sought a written confession from him in a 1986 rape and murder case.

Attorney Flint Taylor, who represents Tillman and several other torture victims in similar civil suits, says the cases are creating a “gravy train” for the private firms the city has hired to defend employees such as Daley.

“The corporate counsel and [Emanuel] need to get their head out of the sand,” Mr. Taylor says. “The real question here is, is the city going to defend torturers or are they going to compensate victims?”

Taylor is slated to take a deposition from Daley in federal court on Sept. 8 – the first time Daley would face grueling questioning about his knowledge of the torture allegations. But the the city’s legal department expects to ask the court to dismiss Daley from questioning, which Hoyle says makes it “premature” to assume the deposition will take place.

In separate court action involving Burge, a friend-of-the-court brief filed Wednesday with the Illinois Supreme Court seeks new hearings for 15 inmates who say their convictions are invalid because they are based on confessions coerced by torture. The brief, by a legal team led by ex-Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson (R), marks the first time during the Burge saga that plaintiffs approached the court as a group and not via individual cases.

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