Burge gets 4.5 years in prison

By Meghan Gray

The Everett McKinley Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, 219 S. Dearborn St., was packed with the alleged victims of former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, for the sentencing of the man whose name has become synonymous with police brutality throughout the last four decades.

Burge received a sentence of 54 months in prison from Judge Joan Lefkow on Jan. 21 Burge was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice last June. He was convicted of lying to the courts concerning the torture of more than 100 people.

“Unfortunately for you, the jury did not believe you and I must agree. I did not either,” Lefkow told Burge.

Additionally, Burge was sentenced to three years supervision upon his release, required to participate in an alcohol treatment program and is banned from owning a firearm. His surrender date is March 16.

“It’s stunning,” said a woman known as Queen Sister. “Some time beats no time. He won’t be having a fun time. That’s what’s important.”

Prosecutors said Burge clearly denied the rights of criminal suspects he investigated and used inhumane tactics to coerce confessions. According to court reports, the alleged abuse took place between 1972 and 1991. The defendant is said to have lied to prosecutors in a 2003 civil suit and was indicted for it in 2008.

“I am a broken man,” Burge told the court. “I’m not the person portrayed in the media and by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.”

Burge and his officers were found guilty of tormenting dozens of individuals, all either black or Latino. The defendant was acquitted in 1989 after a hung jury in the first trial. Because of the statute of limitations, he avoided conviction for the police brutality he enacted and oversaw. In civil cases, the law restricts the time in which legal proceedings may be brought. Because many victims were incarcerated, the time in which Burge could have been tried in court expired.

Burge and those directly under his command reportedly used malicious practices that left little to no physical evidence. Methods used were severe beating, shocking and suffocation. Items frequently used in Burge’s interrogations included cattle prods, pipes, guns, phonebooks and electrical shock boxes.

“The way Jon Burge operated and how he tortured men and children was basically in sophisticated ways a lot of people had never heard of,” said Mark Clements, a victim of Burge’s.

Clements is all too familiar with the techniques used by Burge and his men. After spending 28 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, he blames Chicago’s criminal justice system for allowing this sort of conduct to transpire.

Incarcerated for arson and murder, Clements was exonerated in August 2009 after being found provably innocent. At his trial, the only piece of evidence presented by the prosecution was a confession obtained by force under the direction of Burge.

“Why was I found guilty by people in a jury? That is really something I do not know,” Clements said.

These days, Clements takes full advantage of his freedom and serves as founder and chair for the Jail Jon Burge Coalition, national organizer of The Campaign to End the Death Penalty and wrongful convictions monitor for the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Oppression.

Abuse victims Melvin Jones and Anthony Holmes testified at the sentencing, noting the heinous effect Burge had on them. Both men became emotional while taking the stand and spoke about the pain and anguish they continue to experience decades after the torture.

Jones spoke under oath about an incident that occurred in 1982. According to the victim, the former lieutenant held an electrical device to a radiator and then proceeded to administer three shocks to his body.

“I feel hopeless and helpless when I dream,” Holmes explained. “I’m screaming for help and no one hears me.”

During his interrogation, the victim was shocked with a black box, suffocated with a plastic bag and beat in the groin. Holmes was openly sensitive during his time on the stand, telling the court of the pain he experienced.

“Burge enjoyed it. He laughed as he was torturing me,” Holmes said.

The former lieutenant was suspended from the Chicago Police Department in 1991 and fired in 1993 after a ruling by the Police Review Board. His employment ended when allegations of mistreatment toward a subject surfaced.

Burge is a decorated veteran who earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his military involvement in South Korea and Vietnam. He received an honorable discharge from the Army on Aug. 25, 1969.