Chicago's Toughest Cop Goes Down

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Few stories have so shamed this city as that of Jon Burge, the former boss of Chicago detectives who earned much fame for their work on the toughest cases. Very simply, he and his underlings seemed to solve nearly every investigation thrown their way during much of the 1970s and '80s, from cop killings to serial rapes. How did they get their answers? According to dozens of civil lawsuits and the claims of more than a hundred suspects, it was by force — sometimes a cattle prod held to a man's groin, or a burn caused by a radiator. One suspect said he was electrocuted during interrogation. Another says Burge forced him to play fake Russian roulette. Over the years, hundreds of similar stories emerged, some with enough merit that they factored large in former Gov. George Ryan’s decision to declare a moratorium on executions in Illinois in 2000 and clear the state’s Death Row in 2003.

Those stories have been the focus of a four-year, $7 million investigation by special prosecutors, who released their findings Wednesday. Authors of the 292-page report, top prosecutors Edward J. Egan and Robert D. Boyle, said they had enough evidence to prove crimes against Burge and others, but "regrettably" could not bring charges because the statute of limitations had passed. After reviewing 148 cases, they said found three cases where they could prove in a court of law that Burge and four other officers were guilty of dereliction of duty, mistreatment of prisoners and abuse.

Burge's attorney has said that Burge never tortured anyone, and Burge did not return a message from TIME left at his home. He keeps a residence in Florida, where he ignores phone calls and knocks on his door for comment. It's a far cry from his days on the streets, where his approachability earned the gruff cop a spot as a favorite among colleagues and reporters. Chicago through and through, Burge, now 58, is the son of a phone company worker and fashion journalist who joined the Army, served in Vietnam and then fell in love with policing. From beat cop in 1970 to commander of South Side Chicago's detectives in the early 1980s, he earned commendations like snacks. He was a cop’s cop, a reporter’s cop and a city's hero.

But as evidence began emerging that Burge enforced a quite unique form of justice, he was suspended in 1991. Two years later, he was fired, after city attorneys stood up before the police board and alleged that Burge and his crew coerced confessions out of people — including Andrew Wilson, who said he was forced to confess to the murders of two cops.

Over the years, the city has had to switch seats and take the side of the police, disputing that the city of Chicago should hand out a nickel over such claims. But Chicago has paid, and dearly — attorneys' fees and settlements have totaled in the millions — after concerns were brought by politicians and civil and human rights groups, including Amnesty International. Egan and his chief deputy, Boyle, were appointed in April 2002 by the county’s chief criminal judge specifically to investigate Burge after much community outcry that stemmed from repeated media reports on the alleged crimes.

Egan and Boyle's report has been eagerly awaited by many, but others feared what it would contain. Last month, the court haggled over whether to release the report at all. In late June, the Illinois Supreme Court denied a request by a person concerned he would be named in the report who wanted it to remain secret.

Now that the report has been released, some bigger names may also take cover. Chicago’s Mayor, Richard M. Daley, was the county’s top prosecutor when some of the allegations were being made against Burge. The current top prosecutor, Richard Devine, was a top Daley aide and, while in private practice, defended Burge in at least one lawsuit. Devine had disputed the need for a special prosecutor. Neither has responded directly when asked why Burge was never prosecuted. Boyle said that Daley cooperated with the special prosecutors' investigation. Boyle also said that they believe Daley's explanation that he was aware of the abuse allegations, but delegated the responsibility of investigating them to people who worked under him in his office.

Some are angered that Daley and Devine were not held culpable. "This report is a joke," says Frank Avila, an attorney for Aaron Patterson, who is suing the city for allegations of abuse by Burge and his men. "It is a sham by politically connected attorneys to protect the politically powerful." Meanwhile, Egan and Boyle said they have turned over their evidence — 33,000 documents and testimony from 700 witnesses — to the office of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who could bring conspiracy or similar charges under federal law. A spokesman for Fitzgerald says his office won't make a decision until digesting the report.