Chicago Police Torture Suspects
Prosecutors in Chicago recently reported that Chicago police officers beat, kicked, shocked, or otherwise tortured scores of black suspects in the 1970s and 1980s to try to extract confessions from them.
I was a Secret Service agent in Chicago from late 1969 until early 1972. I served on the counterfeit squad and worked with Chicago police officers and detectives often—although only when necessary because of their lack of ethics. A few stories:
I was the weekend duty agent. I got a call late on a Saturday night. The police had arrested a black man for trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. I got out of bed, drove to the precinct, and got ready to interview the suspect. His right arm hung limply when he came into the interview room. He said, “Mister, I don’t know who you are, but I’m going with you.” He had been beaten by officers. I told him I could help him out if he told me who gave him the counterfeit money, otherwise I would have to leave him there. He wouldn’t tell me, so I left him with the police.
I never saw, but was told, that the Chicago police played a game called “Guess Who?” with suspects to get them to talk. The suspect would sit in a chair and the office would circle behind him and hit the suspect over the head with a Chicago telephone book and say, “guess who?” I heard other stories of cops hanging suspects out the windows by their ankles to get them to talk.
I had an arrest warrant for a man who sold counterfeit money. An informant told me his location. I invited a Chicago police detective to come with us to make the arrest. I wanted an officer along because we might have to break into the apartment, and I wanted a local police presence. I told the detective not to search in the apartment until I first tried to get consent for a search. Otherwise anything we found would be illegal and not admissible in court.
We went to the apartment, knocked on the door, and pushed our way in when the door began to open. The suspect’s girlfriend was behind the door. The suspect was not there. We would have to wait for him to return.
The Chicago detective began to search the apartment. I made him stop. I talked to the young woman and got her consent for a search. We didn’t find any counterfeit money, but we did find a lot of nude photos of the suspect. He was a real ladies man and liked tattoos—one photo showed one on the end of his penis.
We waited for hours. Finally about midnight we heard someone coming down the hall. I was in front of the door. When I heard the key turn in the lock, I pulled the door open from the inside. The startled man jumped. Two agents rushed past me and put the man against the wall and searched him. Suddenly an agent said, “Oh, God.” He searched the man and found a long rubber dildo hanging out the front of his pants. The suspect said he was going to surprise his girlfriend.
We took the defendant off to jail. The Chicago cop stole everything of value in the apartment. My boss took the photo of the tattooed penis—“cocktail conversation”—he said as he put the photo in his pocket.
Street corner justice goes on in every community every day. A lot of good is accomplished when police use good judgment, however, we see in the atrocities in Iraq and in these stories of police behavior what a slippery slope we can go down when we break the rules. The behavior of those in authority can become more evil than the behavior of those they fight when they go down that slippery slope.
I fear I often sound naïve in my idealistic vision for how people with power should behave. I stick with the idealistic, because I’ve been down the slippery slopes and know where they lead.
Tom Heuerman, Ph.D. is a former U.S. Secret Service agent, senior executive at the Star Tribune newspaper, and has been a writer, coach, and consultant since 1994.
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