Through his career, notorious Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his fellow officers used electro-shock devices, burns, plastic bags to suffocate people and mock executions to torture hundreds into false confessions. Ultimately, Burge was convicted of federal perjury charges and last week Lucy Parsons Labs sued the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its records on Jon Burge under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Burge, who learned his torture techniques during his participation in wars in South Korea and Vietnam, brought these tactics back with him to America. He would later teach these methods to his battalion of officers in the Chicago Police Department–the so called “Midnight Crew”.
Among those tortured was Andrew Wilson. Wilson, 29 years old at the time, was alleged to be involved in the shooting of a CPD commander and consequently faced a death penalty charge. Ultimately the Illinois Supreme Court stepped into Wilson’s case and as details of the heinous torture emerged the charges against Wilson and other suspects’ charges were dropped.
In addition to Wilson’s suit, several other acquitted victims filed lawsuits of their own for the torture they endured. Forced confessions were revealed to have been the product of these torture tactics by CPD well before 1982, perhaps as early as 1970.
More legal battles, lasting over 30 years within the city, have led to a swath of Chicago Police Officers being exposed as participating in these brutal programs.The widespread attempted cover-up of the torture wormed its way through deep pockets of then Mayor Daley’s administration.
Many of these detectives, including Burge, never faced consequences for torturing hundreds, in part because of the statute of limitations on their crimes expired. Burge instead went to prison for lying and covering up the torture. He was allowed to collect his police pension even after leaving prison.
The City of Chicago has paid over $110 million in lawsuits this far, but victims of Burge’s battalion’s torture continue to come forward.
The indictment and arrest of Jon Burge by the Federal Bureau of Investigation begs the question – what records might the FBI possess pertaining to Burge – both before and after his criminal trials? Lucy Parsons Labs filed a public records request with the FBI after the death of Burge last September in an attempt to answer this question.
Given the crucial history and public’s interest to have access to these records, we have filed a FOIA lawsuit to liberate these records. Lucy Parsons Labs is represented by Matt Topic and Josh Burday of the Chicago-based law firm Loevy and Loevy.
Lucy Parsons Labs believes in government transparency and we are confident these records could shine light and new details on a CPD commander accused of torturing at least 118 individuals in police custody.
Opening up the FBI records of public figures often reveal new details of their history into the light. We hope to inform the public further about the disastrous history of a police official who fought to his death against anyone who dared question his integrity. New pieces possibly even involving allies he may have found within the city’s administration at the time. Understanding these records from the perspective of a federal law enforcement agency is an especially important factor in releasing these historical documents. In the case of Jon Burge, the FBI has notified us that there are a “voluminous amount of records” they’ve kept on him - an estimated 5,000-plus pages.
The battle to ensure these tactics are never used against the public again continues. With the revelations of other possible illegal CPD-built detention sites such as Homan Square being utilized in the past decade, we need to ensure that now–just as then–we are always holding those in positions of authority accountable for their actions.
A copy of the suit, Jake Ader v Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice can be found online. Lucy Parsons Labs has previously filed a FOIA lawsuit against the FBI for public records.