Emanuel Agrees To $5.5 Million Police Torture Reparations Fund

Updated 04/14/2015 – 1:53 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel has thrown his support behind a proposal to provide $5.5 million in reparations to dozens of victims of police torture at the hands of former police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his detectives, in an effort to provide closure on a scandal that has plagued the city for decades.

The agreement on a reparations ordinance came as aldermen held the first public hearing on a proposed financial restitution fund for torture victims. A group of aldermen had been seeking a fund of $20 million in reparations for torture victims and their families.

Corporation Counsel Steve Patton said the agreement worked out between the Emanuel administration and advocates for torture victims would provide $5.5 million for torture victims who cannot sue for damages, because the statute of limitations on their allegations has expired.

The fund will provide up to $100,000 in restitution for people with credible claims of torture by Burge and his detectives. An independent arbitrator would make the final decision on all disputed claims. Only victims that have not received a previous settlement from the city will receive reparations from the fund.

In addition to the financial reparations, the ordinance would call for the city to apologize to torture victims, and provide a number of services – including free job training and tuition at the City Colleges of Chicago for Burge victims, their immediate families, and their grandchildren. The city will also provide psychological, family, substance abuse, and other counseling for victims and their families.

“If Burge victims, their immediate family members, or their grandchildren wish to pursue a degree from the City Colleges of Chicago, they will be able to do so for free,” Patton said.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), who said one of her victims was tortured by detectives under Burge, said public recognition of the cruelty is important, “because we won’t give up on talking about this, and we’re going to make sure that our community, everyone in our family, feel the pain that money can’t even pay for.”

Anthony Holmes, who testified against Burge at the federal trial that led to Burge’s conviction for lying about torture, has said Burge interrogated him in 1973, shocked him three times with a homemade electrical device, and suffocated him with a bag until he confessed to a murder he did not commit.

Holmes spent 30 years in prison for the killing, before he was released, but was unable to sue for damages, because the statute of limitations had long since passed.

His testimony helped put Burge away for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about torture, but that didn’t end Holmes’ decades of pain.

“It ain’t a day that go by that I don’t suffer, but that’s part of the life I’ve got to live,” Holmes told aldermen at City Hall.

Joey Mogul, an attorney with the Peoples Law Office, who has represented several Burge torture victims, and has called for a reparations package for years, said she is grateful for the mayor’s support for the reparations ordinance.

“We can no longer deny this racist police torture. We are gratified the city has recognized this,” she said.

The city already has spent more than $20 million defending Burge, his detectives, and former Mayor Richard M. Daley against lawsuits stemming from torture allegations. The city also has spent approximately $100 million to settle lawsuits stemming from police torture committed by Burge and his detectives in the 1970s and 1980s.

The restitution ordinance will be formally introduced to the City Council on Wednesday.

Survivors of torture under Burge and victims’ supporters have long called for repayment for the suffering, pain, and often wrongful imprisonment they have suffered.

Mostly black suspects were tortured in cases dating back to the 1970s, and many were coerced into confessing to crimes they did not commit. Some victims have won financial settlements with the city, but many others have not.

In February, Burge was released from a halfway house, after spending 4 1/2 years in federal custody, following his conviction for lying about torture. He spent more than three years in prison, before finishing the final months of his sentence at a Florida halfway house.

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