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Jon Burge, ex-Chicago cop who ran torture ring, released from prison

Ex-police commander Jon Burge, who led a torture ring that burned, beat and used electric shock on dozens of black suspects, was released from prison Thursday.
Jon Burge
Former Chicago Police Department commander Jon Burge leaves the Federal Courthouse on Oct. 21, 2008 in Tampa, Fla.

A former Chicago police commander who for decades ran a torture ring that used electrical shock, burning and beatings on more than 100 black men has been released from federal prison after spending less than four years behind bars.

Jon Burge was transferred to a Florida halfway house on Thursday, reigniting the nightmares of many of his victims. Burge and his crew of detectives terrorized the city’s predominantly black South Side throughout the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

In 2010, long after the statute of limitations had expired for his many vile acts, Burge was convicted of perjury for lying about police torture that he oversaw. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for that charge alone. 

"I need some help. I try to hold my emotions back because I don’t want people to see me like that … My family has been through a lot."'

On Thursday, one of Burge’s victims stood at city hall and recalled to reporters the emotional and physical pain he’d endured at the hands of Burge and his men.

Anthony Holmes told the Chicago Tribune that he had been a former gang member arrested by Burge in 1973. He said he was taken to a police station where detectives hooked him up to an electrical box and had a bag pulled over his head. Holmes said the officers shocked him over and over again until he confessed to a murder he hadn't committed.

Holmes, now nearly 70 years old, said he remembers Burge calling him the N-word and warning him not to bite through the bag over his head.

“I need some help,” Holmes told a crowd of reporters at city hall yesterday, according to the Tribune. “I try to hold my emotions back because I don’t want people to see me like that. … My family has been through a lot.”

Holmes eventually spent 30 years in prison for the killing he was tortured in to admitting.

Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel officially apologized on behalf of the city, calling Burge’s reign of terror a “dark chapter in the history of the city of Chicago.”

“All of us,” Emanuel said, are “sorry for what happened.”

Burge has cost the city and Cook County nearly $100 million in legal fees and settlements. The city last year alone approved a $12.3 million settlement to a pair of Burge’s victims who are among the 120 known black victims of Burge’s ring. So far, according to various reports, the city has paid about $67 million in settlements to 18 victims and more than $20 million in lawyers to defend Burge, former mayor Richard Daley and the city.

While Emanuel has described Burge as a “stain on the city’s reputation,” the 66-year-old ex-cop is still receiving a $4,000-a-month pension from the city. The state attorney general recently challenged the city’s pension board after it refused to take away Burge’s pension. But the Illinois Supreme Court this summer ruled that the attorney general’s office didn’t have the legal authority to strip Burge of his pension.

According to In These Times, the Burge affair has cost taxpayers more than $120 million, including more than $22 million in pension costs for Burge and his former cohorts, plus an additional $15 million in investigating and prosecuting Burge’s crimes.

Burge was fired from the police department in 1993. In 2006, following a 4-year investigation, a Cook County prosecutor found evidence of widespread abuses committed by Burge and his henchmen. But the prosecutor also acknowledged that the statute of limitations had passed. Federal prosecutors later nailed Burge for lying during testimony in a civil case where he denied any knowledge of abuse ever committed under his watch.

During his trial in 2010, many of Burge's victims lined up to describe the atrocities they had suffered during torture sessions. Their testimony included revelations that detectives had suffocated suspects with plastic bags and used cattle prods to shock their genitals.

This week an ordinance was introduced at City Hall to set aside a $20 million compensation fund for Burge’s victims. The fund would provide paid tuition to city colleges for survivors and the establishment of a public memorial. It would also require the city’s schools to teach lessons about the case.

“[Burge] has the opportunity to start his life anew with the funds he receives from his police pension that is funded by the Chicago taxpayers,” Joey Mogul, an attorney with the People’s Law Office, told reporters during a press conference at Chicago City Hall on Thursday, “while those he tortured continue to struggle to cope with the torture they endured without one red cent or redress from the city of Chicago.”