David Bates
M. Spencer Green  /  AP
David Bates says he was slapped, kicked and had a plastic bag placed over his head during interrogations by Chicago police in 1983. Investigators found nearly 150 cases of abuse, but said they were too old to prosecute.
updated 7/19/2006 5:51:22 PM ET 2006-07-19T21:51:22

Special prosecutors investigating allegations that police tortured nearly 150 black suspects in the 1970s and ’80s said Wednesday they found evidence of abuse, but any crimes are now too old to prosecute.

In three of the cases, the prosecutors said the evidence was strong enough to have warranted indictments and convictions.

“It is our judgment that the evidence in those cases would be sufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Robert D. Boyle and Edward J. Egan wrote.

The four-year investigation focused on allegations that 148 black men were tortured in Chicago police interrogation rooms in the 1970s and ’80s. The men claimed detectives under the command of Lt. Jon Burge beat them, used electric shocks, played mock Russian roulette and started to smother at least one to elicit confessions.

No one has ever been charged, but Burge was fired after a police board found he had abused a suspect in custody. His attorney has said Burge never tortured anyone.

In about half the cases reviewed, Boyle and Egan said they found evidence of abuse.

Their report concluded that then-police Superintendent Richard J. Brzeczek was guilty of “dereliction of duty” and did not act in good faith in an investigation into claims of torture involving Burge.

State Attorney procedures faulted
They also faulted procedures followed by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office and the police department at the time, saying the procedures were “inadequate in some respects” but had since improved.

Mayor Richard M. Daley was the state’s attorney during part of the period investigated, but Boyle dismissed any notion that Daley knew about the torture. Daley delegated responsibilities to other people in his office and that his only mistake was “perhaps relying on the judgment of others,” Boyle said.

Daley’s office and a police spokeswoman did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Boyle and Egan said they found three cases with enough evidence for convictions, including one involving the man whose abuse allegations led to Burge’s firing. Andrew Wilson, who was convicted of killing two police officers in 1982, claimed Burge and two detectives beat and tortured him with electric shocks.

“Regrettably, we have concluded that the statute of limitations would bar any prosecution of any offenses our investigation has disclosed,” the prosecutors said.

The statute of limitations for criminal charges from the allegations is three years.

Lawsuits in the works
Several people who claimed to have been abused by Chicago detectives have sued the city and the police department, and the report could bolster their cases. Attorney Locke Bowman of the MacArthur Justice Center said the City Council should pay for counseling for those who contend they were tortured.

“That is not where this matter should rest. That is not where it will rest,” Bowman said.

There had also been a legal battle over the release of the report. The Illinois Supreme Court eventually denied a request from a former prosecutor, listed in court documents only as “John Doe,” to block portions of the report from being released.

In May, a United Nations anti-torture panel said the Chicago investigation needs to go farther than it has. The panel said the United States should ensure that law enforcement officials who mistreat suspects are punished.

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