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Police Union: CPS Must Tell 'Full Truth' About Burge Torture Era

By Heather Cherone | September 13, 2017 6:28am | Updated on September 15, 2017 11:40am
"There is more work to be done," Jon Burge torture victim Darrell Cannon said. "But this is one hell of a step in the right direction."
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CITY HALL — The unit designed to teach the city's eighth-graders and high school sophomores about one of the darkest chapters in Chicago Police Department history does not include the "full truth" of what happened, said one of the leaders of the union that represents most officers.

When school officials and Police Department brass unveiled the curriculum last month, they said the unit was designed to ensure that what happened to the victims of Cmdr. Jon Burge and the officers known as the "Midnight Crew" that he led "never happens to another soul in this city."

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson apologized to the more than 100 African-Americans who were tortured while in police custody during a period from 1972 to 1991 as part of the reparations effort approved by the City Council in 2015 that included $5.5 million for Burge's victims.

But Fraternal Order of Police Local 7 — in the midst of contract negotiations with the city — does not consider what courts and city officials have determined happened under Burge's command on the South and West sides of the city as settled history.

In a statement, the union said "the Burge mythology" should not be part of the public school curriculum, and add that there was "the strong possibility that some wrongful conviction claims are false and some may even be fraudulent."

In a letter to Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson, union Second Vice President Martin Preib asked her to allow him to speak to students about this subject in a "in a truly objective light without bias."

"While the Chicago FOP finds any coercion of any sort in the course of a criminal investigation repugnant and a violation of our sworn oath to serve and protect, we also believe that the whole truth about this subject of police misconduct may not be reflected accurately in your curriculum, nor in the manner through which it came into being," Preib wrote.

"The full truth is not being told," Preib said in an interview with DNAinfo.

Preib declined to answer questions about the union's specific concerns about the Burge curriculum, saying his letter "spoke for itself."

Police union President Kevin Graham is out of town and was not available for comment Tuesday, Preib said.

Elected in April, Graham promised to fight "the anti-police movement in the city" during the contract negotiations.

In addition, Graham said the police union on his watch would not allow Chicago officers to be criticized or "victimized by a biased, anti-police media."

Students should be told that Burge, who was fired in 1993, was convicted and sent to prison for perjury after being convicted of lying about torture under oath — not for abusing prisoners or coercing confessions, Preib wrote.

Burge continues to be paid a city pension.

Burge's perjured testimony came during a civil suit brought by Madison Hobley, who had been convicted of setting a fire that killed his wife, baby and five others in 1987. Hobley was pardoned in 2003 by Gov. George Ryan, who cleared Death Row before leaving office. Ryan later was convicted of corruption.

Hobley's civil case was settled by the city for $7.8 million in 2007.

Hobley said he was tortured into confessing by Burge and the officers under his command, testifying under oath that he had been beaten and then suffocated with a plastic typewriter cover until he blacked out.

During his trial, testimony by the officers that Hobley confessed made up the heart of the case against him, although his admission of guilt was not documented by officers, according to court records.

Ryan said he pardoned Hobley because "he was convicted because the jury did not have the benefit of all existing evidence, which would have served to exonerate him."

The gas can prosecutors said was used to set the fire did not have Hobley's fingerprints on it, according to court records.

Students should be told that Hobley was never able to convince a judge or jury of his innocence, Preib said.

"I believe most CPS staff members, members of the community and students would be as appalled at the abuse of a suspect and framing him for a crime like rape or murder as they would be of a corrupt governor releasing a mass murderer from prison based upon the murderer’s false claims of police misconduct," Preib wrote.

"Yet will your staff present students with the facts of the Hobley case in proper context of the Burge torture allegations? Will they be taught that Madison Hobley confessed twice to the murders? Will the students be taught that many of the alleged torture and other claims of police misconduct have been proven demonstrably false?"

Representatives of the union should be afforded "the equal opportunity to address your staff and students about the important topic of police brutality during the Burge era," Preib wrote.

A spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Schools did not respond to questions about Preib's letter.

The police union has called on State's Attorney Kim Foxx to reopen the investigation into the fire for which Hobley was convicted of murder.

Through her spokeswoman, Foxx declined to comment about the union's request.