Chicagoland Police Hit with Torture and Forced Confession Lawsuits
Although prosecutors generally love convictions and the hard-nosed police work that goes into getting them, they are less enamored when that police work turns out to involve misconduct so severe that the tainted convictions have to be overturned, often en masse. Two lawsuits recently filed in the Chicago area—Illinois v. Plummer, Wade et al. and Harden, Taylor et al. v. Village of Dixmoor et al.— reveal police torture and coerced confessions against African-American citizens who were wrongly convicted and sentenced to years in prison.
The Plummer case is a class action suit filed on behalf of hundreds of Illinois prison inmates who were coerced to confess by Chicago Police Detective Jon Burge and his men, whose misconduct received nationwide media attention. Between 1972 and 1991, Burge and the officers under his commands forced confessions from literally hundreds of black males, some of them juveniles, by slamming telephone books on top of suspect’s heads, using a cattle prod or a violet wand to shock their faces, anuses and genitals, engaging in mock executions, putting plastic bags over their heads, cigarette burnings and severe beatings. Burge allegedly supervised the electrical shocking of a 13-year-old boy. Burge was fired for the misconduct in 1993, and convicted of related federal perjury charges in 2010. He is currently incarcerated at the federal prison in Butner, North Carolina.
Plaintiff Johnnie Plummer—who was only 15 years old at the time—confessed in 1991 to murder and other crimes after officers threatened him, struck him in the side repeatedly with a flashlight, hit him in the face and pulled his hair. His allegations of torture were rejected by the courts as lacking credibility. Co-plaintiff Vincent Wade confessed to murder, home invasion and armed robbery in 1984 after Burge’s men hit him in the nose with a flashlight, kneed him in the groin, punched him in the eye and beat his chest with a police baton and phonebook while his arms and legs were pinned down. As with Plummer, his complaints of coercion were rejected because of the officers’ denials. Both Plummer and Wade remain in prison.
In the Village of Dixmoor case, five young black men, all between 14 and 16 years of age, spent 19 years in prison because police coerced confessions and withheld evidence about a girl’s rape and murder. The five were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2011 and released from prison. In separate federal complaints, they are suing six Illinois State Police officers, the village of Dixmoor (pop. 400) and three former Dixmoor police officers, seeking punitive damages for violation of due process, failure to intervene, conspiracy, malicious prosecution, and emotional distress. Dixmoor is a southern suburb of Chicago.
According to Harden’s complaint, the police built their case by coercing 15-year-old Robert Veal, who had an IQ of 56, to confess to the rape and murder, feeding Veal non-public details of the crime to make his confession seem credible. The police hand-wrote a confession for Veal to sign, and then used it, along with physical force, to coerce the other four boys to confess as well. The police also suppressed evidence showing that the “Dixmoor Five” had nothing to do with the crime, according to the complaint.
After spending 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Harden seeks “accountability and compensation for losing more than half of his life to Defendants' misconduct, including the most formative and vibrant years of a man's life, when he would have otherwise been graduating from high school, pursuing a career, and starting a family.”
The Cook County Court vacated all five men’s convictions in late 2011 and early this year. Illinois granted Harden a certificate of innocence this year, without objection from the prosecution.
To Learn More:
Police Torture Victims Seek Last Chance (by Rose Bouboushian, Courthouse News Network)
Illinois v. Johnnie Plummer, Vincent Wade et al. (Petition for Class Certification) (pdf)
Five Framed Teens Spent 19 Years in Prison (by Jack Bouboushian, Courthouse News Network)
Dixmoor Five, Wrongly Convicted of Murder, Sue Police (by Kim Janssen, Chicago Sun-Times)
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