A former high-ranking Chicago police official was arrested yesterday on charges that he lied when he denied that he and detectives under his command tortured murder suspects, federal officials said.
A federal indictment unsealed yesterday accuses former police lieutenant Jon Burge of perjury and obstruction of justice for statements he made in 2003 when answering questions in a civil rights lawsuit.
The arrest capped a long-running controversy over allegations that beatings, electric shocks, and death threats were used against suspects at Burge’s Area 2 violent crimes headquarters. The allegations contributed to former governor George Ryan’s decision in early 2003 to empty the state’s death row.
Burge, 60, who has long denied wrongdoing, was arrested before dawn at his home in Apollo Beach, Fla., the US attorney’s office said. He moved to Florida after he was fired in 1993.
“He has shamed his uniform and shamed his badge,” US Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in announcing the indictment.
Burge appeared yesterday afternoon before a federal magistrate judge in Tampa and was later released on $250,000 bond. Outside the courthouse, he told reporters he will plead not guilty.
Asked if the indictment came as a surprise, Burge said, “I’m not at liberty to say anything, but yes it did.”
Burge is expected to be arraigned in federal court in Chicago on Monday. His attorney, James Sotos, declined to comment.
The two obstruction counts against Burge each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The perjury count carries up to five years. Each count also provides for a $250,000 fine.
The indictment said Burge lied in his response to the civil rights lawsuit when he said he and other detectives hadn’t tortured anyone. That lawsuit, filed by Madison Hobley, alleged that Burge and other detectives tortured him, including covering his head with a typewriter cover until he couldn’t breathe in 1987.
Hobley was arrested on suspicion of setting a fire that killed seven people, including his wife and son. Hobley said he never confessed and that a confession introduced at his trial was fabricated by homicide detectives.
He was convicted in 1990 and spent 13 years on death row. But he was among four men pardoned by Ryan in January 2003. The other 167 people then on Illinois’ death row had their sentences commuted by Ryan, in most cases to life in prison.
An attorney who represents the other two men allegedly tortured by Burge’s detectives called the arrest one of “enormous symbolic importance” in Chicago, where the police department has long been dogged by allegations of misconduct.
“This has been a symbol of a pattern of racism and of police as an occupier in certain neighborhoods, and the federal government stepping in here just has enormous importance even if it is only this one case,” said Locke Bowman, of the MacArthur Justice Center at the Northwestern University School of Law.