WASHINGTON – Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was arrested today at his home in Florida on federal obstruction of justice and perjury charges for allegedly lying about whether he and other officers under his command participated in torture and physical abuse of suspects in police custody dating back to the 1980s. Burge was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury in a three-count indictment that was returned under seal by a federal grand jury last Thursday, Oct. 16. 2008, and unsealed following his arrest.
The indictment was announced jointly by Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Today’s indictment alleges that Burge lied and impeded court proceedings in November 2003 when he provided written answers to questions, known as interrogatories, in a civil lawsuit alleging that he and others tortured and abused people in their custody.
"Throughout our nation, our fine law enforcement officers make daily sacrifices in the pursuit of justice," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Becker. "It is imperative that we take these charges seriously but also bear in mind they do not reflect upon the conduct of the vast majority of law enforcement officers."
"There is no place for torture and abuse in a police station. There is no place for perjury and false statements in federal lawsuits," said U.S. Attorney. Fitzgerald. "No person is above the law, and nobody – even a suspected murderer – is beneath its protection. The alleged criminal conduct by defendant Burge goes to the core principles of our criminal justice system."
"Everyday Chicago Police Officers execute their sworn duties lawfully with great skill, courage and integrity," said Special Agent-in-Charge Grant. "Sometimes they do so with great peril, as we have been sadly reminded in recent weeks and months. But police officers have a special duty which is underscored by today's announcement. Police officers don't serve the public as judge and jury and they have a special responsibility to care for those within their custody, regardless of their alleged crimes. Today’s announcement brings great shame on the career of retired Commander Jon Burge. These charges will not erase the pain within our Chicago community, but perhaps it can help begin the healing process."
Burge, 60, of Apollo Beach. Fla., is expected to have an initial appearance later today in Federal Court in Tampa. No date has yet been set for him to appear in U.S. District Court in Chicago, where he will face prosecution.
According to the indictment, Burge was a Chicago Police Officer from 1970 to 1993. He served in several jurisdictions throughout the city, as a detective from 1972-1974, a sergeant from 1977-1980, and a lieutenant commanding detectives working in the Area Two violent crimes unit from about 1981-1986 . Subsequently, he was commander of the Bomb and Arson Unit, and, later, commander of Area Three detectives. Burge was suspended by the Chicago Police Department in 1991 and fired in 1993.
The indictment alleges that during the time Burge worked in Area Two, he was present on one or more occasions for, and at times participated in, the torture and physical abuse of persons in police custody. It is further alleged that during the time he worked as the lieutenant supervising Area Two violent crimes detectives, Burge was aware that detectives he supervised, on one or more other occasions, engaged in torture and physical abuse of people in their custody.
Chicago Police Department regulations, as well as state and federal law, prohibit torture, physical abuse and other use of excessive force by police officers.
Since 1991, a series of police brutality civil lawsuits have been filed alleging that Burge and other detectives and police officers under his command participated in torture and abuse of suspects. One such case, Hobley v. Burge, et al., filed in 2003 in U.S. District Court in Chicago, alleged that plaintiff Madison Hobley was tortured and abused by police officers at Area Two headquarters in January 1987 in order to coerce a confession. The suit included an allegation that police officers had placed a plastic bag over Hobley’s head until he lost consciousness.
The Hobley lawsuit claimed that Burge was aware of a pattern of torture and abuse at Area Two police headquarters. The indictment does not, however, allege that Hobley was tortured or abused.
During the discovery process in civil litigation, Hobley’s attorneys served Burge with written interrogatories. Burge’s written responses are the basis for today’s charges, which allege that Burge corruptly obstructed, influenced and impeded an official proceeding by signing answers containing false statements in response to two interrogatories in the Hobley litigation.
If convicted, Burge faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count of obstruction of justice, five years for perjury, and a $250,000 fine on each count.
The investigation is continuing. An indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeff Cramer, Barry Miller and Sergio Acosta, and Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Betsy Biffl.