The Chicago Inquisition

Stories of Police Torture

By Virus X

Revolutionary Worker #1068, August 27, 2000

"First is degradation of the individual.... Second, they always make the individual totally dependent on them. So they create a situation of hopelessness and powerlessness, and then they apply a methodology that goes from beating to wet submarino. [a technique of asphyxiation]"

Dr. Antonio Martinez, clinical psychologist and torture expert
Testimony at the court hearing for police torture survivor Darrell Cannon

During the last year, the Cook County Courthouse in Chicago has been the site of an ongoing hearing about police torture. The hearing was ordered to determine if an incriminating statement made by Darrell Cannon--that implicated himself in a 1983 murder--was extracted under police torture.

Testimony has been intense, riveting, and very emotional. At stake was not only Darrell's freedom, but justice for the many, many other victims of a notorious group of Chicago police officers.

Beginning around 1972, a gang of Chicago police officers operated a torture ring on Chicago's south side. Led by Area 2 Police Commander Lt. Jon Burge, the officers subjected their victims to a range of abuses. Beatings, pistol whippings, mock executions, suffocation,ÊandÊelectro- shock were among the "techniques" they employed. City and police authorities clearly tolerated, if not endorsed, the situation--rewarding police with promotions and answering complaints with denials and cover-ups. This lasted for nearly 20 years, until open exposure and public protest forced the firing of Lt. Burge in 1993.

The list of known Burge victims currently stands at 60. Almost all are Black men. One was only 13 years old. Many of these victims were forced to make statements that resulted in imprisonment -- a dozen ending up on death row.

In the last year, in addition to Darrell Cannon, Ronald Kitchen and Madison Hobley--two other men who were tortured by Burge's gang--won new hearings. And on Thursday, August 10, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed or remanded six death penalty cases--ordering new trials, sentencings, briefs or hearings based on allegations of torture by police, cheating by prosecutors and incompetent defense lawyers. Two of the cases--that of Aaron Patterson and Derrick King--involved torture at the hands of Burge and his gang. In both of these trials, forced confessions were a key part of the prosecution's case. Aaron Patterson, who was convicted of murder in 1986, and Derrick King, who was convicted of murder in 1979, could now be awarded new trials. The Illinois Supreme Court noted that the officers in Patterson's case are among those who have been accused repeatedly of torturing suspects. And the court admitted that if Patterson were tried now with all of the evidence supporting his claim presented and accepted as true--he likely would be acquitted.

Darrell Cannon's statement came after police repeatedly shoved a shotgun into his mouth, beat him with a flashlight, and used a cattle prod to shock his mouth and genitals. Darrell is now doing year 18 of a natural life sentence.

Though Darrell Cannon won a new hearing from an appeals court over two years ago, it wasn't until last summer that the hearing finally began. What followed has been most unusual for a Chicago courtroom: Investigators from the Office of Professional Standards (in-house police complaint review board) have confirmed police torture. Medical experts have shed light into the methods and effects of torture--whether done in a Third World country or the Chicago police station. And most powerfully, five brave souls who had suffered at the hands of Burge and Co. stepped forward to tell their stories.


Gregory Banks slowly walked into the chambers, hands and legs shackled, wearing a bright orange prison jumpsuit. It seemed more like he was in a fishbowl than a courtroom--the room was small, circular, crowded and surrounded by a wall of plexiglas separating the rows of spectators from the proceedings. He told his story in a soft voice. His words riveting. Painful. Enraging.

October 29, 1983. It had been over six hours since his arrest and Gregory Banks still wouldn't talk. That fact had become quite clear to officers Charles Grunhard, John Byrne and Peter Dignan--the three increasingly frustrated Chicago cops who had been interrogating him. Nothing they said or did seemed to coax the words they wanted from him. They had shoved a chrome .45 in Gregory's mouth. They had knocked Gregory to the floor. Kicked him all over. Beat him with a heavy police flashlight. Yet they still weren't getting the response they wanted. Other methods would have to be used.

Detective Dignan pulled out a plastic bag. "We have something special for n*ggers," he remarked, pulling the bag down over Gregory's head and holding it down tight on his shoulders. Gregory Banks found himself suffocating. "There was nothing I could do," he said, looking back on his experience, "I was helpless. I was defenseless. I would have died." After a few minutes, one of the cops pulled the bag off of Gregory's head, and together with the other officers, walked out of the interrogation room. Gregory was left lying on the ground, gasping for air.

Ten minutes later, the cops returned for another round with the plastic bag. This time, Gregory Banks gave them the statement they wanted--and received a conviction and prison sentence. It took seven years before a court threw out that conviction.


David Bates was getting a little nervous standing outside the courtroom waiting for his turn to testify. Once on the stand, he would be forced to revisit a time in his life he had no desire to relive. He had been arrested around the same time and charged with the same crime as Gregory Banks. He also got the same treatment. The abuse David suffered resulted in a conviction that stole10 years from his life. Even though he later won a lawsuit against the police, nothing could bring back the time lost--or erase the memories of that experience.

It was 8 in the morning, on October 28, 1983, when a teenage David Bates was arrested, brought to a room in the police station and cuffed to a wall. Grunhard and Byrne were among the officers who interrogated him. The first round of "questioning" entailed slaps to the face and a kick to the testicles. The second brought more slaps and punches. On the third visit, the cops used the plastic bag. David was punched in the stomach, forcing him to gasp for air, sucking the bag into his mouth and nose. He came close to passing out. The bag came back off, the punches continued as the cops shouted questions at him. Then the bag went over his head a second time--swallowing David's screams. "I couldn't breath at all," remembered David, "I was 17, 18 years of age, my first interaction of such like that. I was in stark terror, at the police station, at the police officers. I didn't think they could do that. It was straight trauma."

On their last visit, the police left David Bates with a threat. "We know how to deal with n*ggers like you," remarked one of the detectives, promising to return on the graveyard shift and "deal" with him then. David caved in. "I felt like I wasn't gonna make it overnight if they came back. They had the power to do what they like, they made that message clear."


Throughout the hearing, an important goal for the defense was to demonstrate not only a general pattern of abuse at Area 2 headquarters, but that the three cops who tortured Darrell Cannon-- Grunhard, Byrne and Dignan--had a track record of brutality. The testimony made that clear. The brutal torture of David Bates and Gregory Banks occurred only a few days before Darrell's arrest. For Alonzo Smith, the torture occurred nearly one year before, in January of 1983.

Alonzo Smith's ordeal began not with an arrest but with a voluntary trip to the police station. The police had just ransacked the home of Alonzo and his wife in connection with a murder investigation. Alonzo just wanted to straighten things out--but quickly found himself cuffed to a chair in the station basement. His inquisitors were officers Dignan and Byrne. "I'm tired of fucking around," said one of the cops, "We have all night long. Before you leave the basement you'll tell me what we want to hear."

Alonzo Smith was struck in the groin with a nightstick, kicked in the stomach and then beaten on his hands and legs. A plastic bag was put on his head while the beatings continued. Alonzo tried to breathe, sucked the bag into his mouth, blacked out and collapsed to the floor.

Alonzo Smith awoke as the police were putting him back on the chair, and the bag back on his head. "I felt lost," he testified, "all day I've been telling the same thing--not guilty of what asked... I didn't kill anybody--and they not believe me. I felt lost. " Again he was kicked and beaten, again he woke up on the floor. By then he was shaking, prompting one of the detectives to remark, "What are you doing, some kind of new n*gger dance."

The third time the police attempted to suffocate Alonzo Smith, he saw his blood on the inside of the bag. He panicked. "I had enough," he shouted, "what do you want from me." Alonzo agreed to say whatever the detectives told him to say. They informed him that should he mess up they'd bring him back down to the basement and kill him. Alonzo didn't argue. He has now been in prison for 16 years.


After each witness took the stand, there was very little for the prosecution to say. Sometimes they tried to discredit the witness by bringing up other criminal charges. Sometimes they seized on minor mistakes made recounting stories of what happened more than a decade ago. But they were never able to shake a single witness from his story.

Five a.m. on July 7, 1984, Philip Adkins was taken away by police. Repeated denials of knowing about a murder earned him the title of "smart ass n*gger" from the cops and a trip to their "spot." He was driven to a parking lot near a public housing development, slugged in the stomach and rammed with a billy club. He was struck repeatedly on his elbows, knees, back, ribs and in his groin. He fought to stay conscious. He wound up urinating and defecating on himself in the back seat of the police car.

By the time he was brought back to the police station, Philip Adkins could barely walk. One cop said that if Philip didn't stand up, they'd take him back to their "spot" and finish him off. He was cuffed to the wall at the station--where he repeatedly threw up. Only after he was put through a lineup was Philip taken to a hospital. Police refused to allow his relatives to bring in a camera to take pictures of his injuries. At trial, a statement was used to win a conviction--even though Philip Adkins denies he ever made such a statement or signed that confession. Philip Adkins spent 10 years in prison.


During his testimony as a medical expert on torture, Dr. Robert Kirschner described the specific forms of torture favored in various countries. Asphyxiation--Central and South America. Suspension by one's arms--Turkey. Violent shaking--Israel. Mock executions--many, many places.

Most of these techniques were used in Area 2, including one particular technique involving electro-shock, using a device known as a "Tucker telephone." Dr. Kirschner noted that electro-shock has been taught to torturers in other countries by the U.S. in the School of the Americas, and was commonly used by the United States during the Vietnam war to interrogate Vietnamese suspects. Lt. Burge was stationed in Vietnam as a military police in a POW camp.

Melvin Jones was arrested February 15, 1982 and kept four days at Area 2 police headquarters. During that time he was usually handcuffed to a chair, with little sleep, no food, not even allowed to use the toilet. He had little choice but to relieve himself in that chair.

Boasting about his prowess in breaking people, Burge told Melvin Jones how he tortured a number of gang leaders and made them crawl all over the floor. Melvin's request for a lawyer was met with derision. "That b*tch should not make it up here," cracked Burge. "You only got two rights," he continued, "the right to get your ass kicked or confess."

At one point Burge came into the room holding a box with wires and plugs. Melvin Jones was ordered to stand and drop his pants. "Well I hope you had sex last night," quipped Burge. He took one of the wires and touched the radiator. It sparked. Then he touched Melvin on the foot, the inner thigh and finally on the penis. The pain was agonizing. All Melvin could do was cry "Oh my god."

Even that wasn't enough for the Lieutenant. First Burge put a gash in Melvin's head with a staple gun. Then he stuck his revolver in Melvin's face, repeatedly squeezing the trigger. Another cop pulled Burge away, then "encouraged" Melvin to cooperate. Though Melvin still refused to make a statement, police testified that he did. Melvin Jones spent over seven years in prison before a court threw out the conviction.


Toward the end of his testimony at the hearing, Dr. Kirschner stated that during his tenure as Cook County Medical Examiner, he had spoken to a number of Chicago detectives. They not only admitted to him that they knew torture was going on under Burge in Area 2, but that if a prisoner from a different police area wasn't cooperating, they'd send him over to Burge. It would seem that while systematic large-scale torture may have been the specialty of Jon Burge and Co., it was a talent that was found useful throughout the police department.

On August 3, the hearing judge threw out the testimony of Melvin Jones and a number of other victims of torture by Burge & Co. The judge would only permit statements of those tortured by the same cops involved with Darrell Cannon. Lawyers intend to challenge this ruling, and while the outcome of Darrell Cannon's hearing is yet to be determined, the hearing has vividly brought out the reality of police torture. On that verdict, there can be no doubt.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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