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Chicago has paid $5.5 million in reparations to 57 victims of police torture in a bid to soothe tensions with the city's African-American community amid protests over a spate of police shootings and a federal civil rights probe into department-wide misconduct.
The bulk of the survivors received checks of $100,000 for the abuse they suffered at the hands of a police unit commanded by Jon Burge from 1972 through 1991. More than 100 men have accused Burge and his officers of administering beatings, shocking them on their lips and genitals with a cattle prod, staging mock executions, and suffocating them to elicit false confessions. The reparations were only paid to those whose claims were found to be credible after a months-long vetting process.
"Reparations are not a necessity," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times. "But it is a moral compunction and a moral reckoning to right a wrong. There is no statute of limitations on that."
Advocates for the survivors previously asked for at least $20 million to finance the Chicago Police Torture Reparations Commission on the city's South Side to match the amount of money Chicago has spent in legal fees to defend Burge, other detectives, and former Mayor Richard M. Daley in the torture cases. Chicago and Cook County have already paid roughly $100 million in settlements and verdicts to victims in the torture cases.
Between 1972 and 1991, in an attempt to draw out confessions, Burge ran a group of detectives known as the "Midnight Crew" that tortured as many as 120 African-American men. Suspects reported that one of Burge's torture tactics involved a "black box" that had a crank and two wires on each side, which was used to shock the suspects during questioning.
In 1982, after confessing to the murder of two police officers, Andrew Wilson claimed that he was tortured while in the custody of Burge and his team. Wilson said that he was repeatedly beaten by several officers who placed a plastic bag over his head. He also said that he was shocked by electrical devices and burned on a radiator. According to the report, Burge took out a device and attached clamps to Wilson's ear before cranking it, which "caused Wilson to grind his teeth, scream, and rub the clamps off," the report states. Then Burge took out another device that resembled a curling iron. Burge rubbed the device along Wilson's legs, and Wilson reported that the shocks from this device were stronger than those from the previous one. Then Burge proceeded to put an unloaded gun in Wilson's mouth and pulled the trigger.
Wilson was retried and reconvicted of the murders five years later, but filed a civil lawsuit against Burge for torture. After a decade, Wilson received a $1.1 million settlement.
The survivors who did not receive $100,000 checks this week received a pro-rata share based on the amount received in prior settlements.
Burge, who was fired in 1993, has never been criminally charged with torture, but he did serve four and a half years in prison for lying about the use of torture in a civil case. He continues to receive a police pension.
In addition to the reparations, the city is setting up a "permanent memorial" for those who were abused and has also promised other compensation to survivors and their families including job training, free City Colleges tuition, and psychological and substance abuse counseling.
"To a lot of members of the African-American community, my sense is this is really a meaningful thing," Stephen Patton, the city's corporation counsel, told the Sun-Times.
"Now, is this going to make up for Laquan McDonald? No. It's not," he added, referring to the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old last October. "But, in terms of resolving some of those wrongs and particularly egregious ones, yeah. I think it does."
The recent release of video of McDonald's shooting sparked rounds of protests and led to the firing of Chicago's police chief as well as calls for Emanuel's resignation. The officer, Jason Van Dyke, who is white, was charged with first-degree murder late last month.
In early December, a week after Emanuel asked his top cop to step down, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that her department had launched an investigation into the city's entire police department.
Lynch said that the investigation into the department's "patterns and practices" would focus on the use of excessive and deadly force, racial bias, and systems of accountability to determine whether its officers systematically violate constitutional rights.
Last week Emanuel announced plans to train all officers in communication and "de-escalation tactics" and double the number of cops carrying Tasers from 700 to 1,400.
Arijeta Lajka and Reuters contributed to this report.