City to settle Burge case
4 alleged victims to get share of up to 19.8 million under tentative plan
By: Gary Washburn & Jeff Coen, Tribune staff reporters, Chicago Tribune: December 8th, 2007
Closing one major chapter in the long-running saga of disgraced former police Cmdr. Jon Burge, the city tentatively has agreed to play as much as $19.8 million to settle the cases of four African-American men who allegedly were tortured into confessions while in his custody.
The total settlement, which is expected to be considered by the City Council next week, could exceed the $18 million paid to the family of LaTanya Haggerty, whom police mistakenly shot to death in 1999.
In typical City Hall fashion, news of the big payout came late Friday afternoon, while Mayor Richard Daley was out of town and unavailable for comment. The mayor’s in Italy, but the Daley administration insisted the timing was coincidental.
Aldermen who for months have been pressuring Daley to settle the torture cases welcomed the news.
“‘I am euphoric,” said Ald. Ed Smith (28th). “We have been pushing for a long time.”
Now, Smith said, officials must find a way to bring criminal charges against Burge and strip him of his city pension.
“These [victims] will have to live with what this man did to them for the rest of their lives, and he is living off the fat of the land.”
Burge, who was fired by the city in 1993 and now lives in Florida, long has denied any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, in a deposition videotaped in 2004, he repeatedly invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The settlement would cover the high-profile cases of four men convicted of murder after allegedly being subjected to electric shocks, beatings and other brutality by Burge and officers in his command. Leroy Orange, Stanley Howard, Madison Hobley and Aaron Patterson all were pardoned and released from Death Row by then-Gov. George Ryan.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers contended the city agreed to a $14.8 million settlement with Orange, Howard and Hobley last year and then backed out. But Daley insisted he never signed off on such a deal.
In September, Corporation Counsel Mara Georges disclosed why not: Hobley is under federal investigation for events surrounding the fatal 1987 fire that had led to his conviction.
Under a settlement very different from the others, Hobley is to receive an initial $1 million. Another $6.5 million will be paid only if he is not indicted and convicted for the alleged arson, which killed seven people.
Orange is to get $5.5 million, Patterson $5 million. Both will be responsible for paying their attorneys. Howard will get $800,000 from the city, his lawyers $1 million.
“I think it has reflected very badly on the city of Chicago not only that this took place but that it has been almost 20 years since we have known about it and we finally are moving to settle,” said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th). “It is possible that people who were tortured were guilty, but that is irrelevant. They shouldn’t have been tortured.”
Accuser back in prison
Four years after his release from prison, Patterson was convicted earlier this year of trading in guns and drugs. He was sentenced to 30 years and is serving time in a high-security federal prison in Kentucky, according to federal prison records.
But attorney Frank Avila Jr., who represented him in his suit against the city, said it is difficult to compute what Patterson is owed for the years spent behind bars unjustly after his abuse.
“How do you compensate a man who is imprisoned for 17 years for something he didn’t do, and for 15 years on Death Row?” Avila said. “Money is the only analogous system, but how do you do it? Per day? Per week? Per hour? How do you compensate a man for being tortured?”
Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd), a lawyer who won $9 million from the city for a client in an earlier wrongful conviction case, said the big money also is justified to help the men adjust to life outside prison.
“They are so downtrodden, they can’t lift themselves up,” Fioretti said.
The city’s legal tab for outside attorneys in the four cases to date totals $6.6 million, said Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department. And police wrongdoing judgments and settlements cost the city a total of about $26.4 million last year; $20.6 million in 2005; $31.3 million in 2004; and $26.7 million in 2003.
In a still unresolved Burge-related case, convicted murderer Darrell Cannon is seeking to add to the $3,000 settlement he agreed to when he represented himself in a case against the city in 1986.
The city is “worried about the precedent it’s going to set [to pay more now],” said G. Flint Taylor, the attorney who now represents Cannon. “Well, what kind of precedent is it going to set if they go to trial?”
Taylor contended the city faces $3 million in legal costs to fight the case. Hoyle disputed that amount, saying taxpayers have paid about $520,000 in legal fees thus far.
City defends timing
As for the timing of the announcement – with Daley abroad – Hoyle said the four settlements are “something we have been finalizing over the last few weeks” and finished only on Friday, in time for presentation to the council’s Finance Committee on Monday.
On another police-related front, city officials are seeking the right to conduct drug and alcohol testing after all shootings involving officers as part of contract negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police.
The Tribune reported this week that the Police Department in some cases has administered tests hours after shooting incidents in which there are indications of impairment and, in other cases, not at all.
After an eight-month investigation of police shootings, the newspaper highlighted the questionable fatal shooting of a would-be car thief by Officer Phyllis Clinkscales. Records and interviews indicated that no test was administered, though the off-duty Clinkscales was returning at 3 a.m. from a wedding reception held at a tavern.
An FOP official declined to comment on the city’s contract proposal.