Homan Square (Photograph credit: Alyssa Schuker for the Guardian)
Homan Square (Photograph credit: Alyssa Schuker for the Guardian)

 

If the mainstream media were to discuss a secret police bunker where suspects were “disappeared” – held against their will, without criminal charges, and subject to secret, violent interrogations – most people would likely think the bunker was in an authoritarian country lacking in constitutional protections like ours.  The media shies away from such coverage even when it occurs overseas, but this frightening secret dungeon is right here in the United States, in the Chicago Police Department’s sprawling Homan Square complex.

Homan Square is an anonymous looking red brick building on Chicago’s west side that, on closer inspection, actually is a highly protected bunker containing secret military-style weaponry.  When a suspect (or prospective informant) is taken to Homan Square, there are no booking records for the interrogation.  Family members or lawyers are not notified.  Phone calls are almost universally prohibited, and the absence of any booking records makes it nearly impossible to find the person.  Interrogations last hours or sometimes days.  And there is no oversight at all.

The Chicago Police has been extremely secretive about the details of who has been held at Homan Square, why, and what the conditions are like.  Here are some of the things we do know.  The “disappeared” of Homan Square are 94% Black or Hispanic.  About 75% of the suspects who were criminally charged after being held at Homan Square were charged with drug offenses, mostly low level drug offenses.  There have been 7,185 arrests that began as interrogations at Homan Square, but who knows how many others were interrogated there but never charged.  Without any booking records, it’s anybody’s guess.

David Gaeger, the attorney of one suspect who was held at Homan Square after being arrested for possessing marijuana, described, “That place was and is scary. It’s a scary place. There’s nothing about it that resembles a police station. It comes from a Bond movie or something.”  Gaeger has explained the access problem of trying to provide legal assistance to someone taken to Homan Square: ““Try finding a phone number for Homan to see if anyone’s there. You can’t, ever. . . .If you’re laboring under the assumption that your client’s at Homan, there really isn’t much you can do as a lawyer. You’re shut out. It’s guarded like a military installation.”

A law suit brought by several men illegally held at Homan Square described one man who was picked up by Chicago Police officers while buying soda, and brought to Homan.  An officer there held a knife to his neck and sliced off parts of his hooded sweatshirt when he requested an attorney. Other men complained of strip searches and naked anal probe searches forced on them before they were shackled to a bench and wall in dark cells without access to food, water, a bathroom, family members or legal counsel.  A common complaint among those held at Homan Square is that the police try to force citizens to implicate others in drug or gun crimes.  Some alleged that they were threatened that false crimes would be pinned on them or their loved ones if they didn’t “cooperate” with the snitch demands.  When you consider all of the wrongful convictions we see, you can’t help but wonder how many are based on false testimony coerced at Homan Square.  And with no booking records, there’s no way for a criminal defendant to know whether the person accusing him at trial was perhaps held at Homan Square for days before deciding to implicate him.

The horror of Homan Square must be stopped. The Cook County Board of Commissioners has unanimously approved a resolution asking the Department of Justice to look into claims of “civil and human rights violations” at Homan Square.  The DOJ recently announced an investigation of the Chicago Police Department, to consider whether the CPD systemically violates the Constitution or federal law. That investigation would be woefully incomplete if the DOJ does not also investigate what is happening at Homan Square.

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