A former Chicago police commander imprisoned for lying about the torture of suspects decades ago is still costing the cash-strapped city money as it defends itself _ and him _ against civil lawsuits from men who claim he and his men beat, suffocated and shocked confessions out of them.
Six lawsuits are pending that accuse former Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge or his officers of torturing suspects _ almost all of them black or Latino_ into giving confessions from the 1970s to the 1990s.
And while the city's stance has long been that it would defend itself vigorously against any such lawsuits, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times for a story published Tuesday that he's working toward settling them.
"I know we can settle _ and we're working towards that," Emanuel told the newspaper. "Settlement is a possibility."
He didn't take questions about his comments at an unrelated news conference Tuesday morning, and attorneys for the men who have sued the city say they hadn't heard from the mayor's office about possible settlements.
Burge, whose name in Chicago is synonymous with police brutality and racism, was convicted last year of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying in a civil suit about whether he'd ever seen or participated in torture. He's serving a 4 1/2-year sentence at Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.
Burge-related cases already have cost the city an estimated $43 million and counting, including a nearly $20 million settlement for four alleged torture victims. The lawsuits typically name Burge, the city and the Chicago Police Department, among others.
Taxpayers are paying for the costs to defend all of the parties, including Burge, who was fired in 1993 over the 1982 beating and burning of Andrew Wilson, a suspect later convicted of killing two police officers. Burge has never faced criminal charges for abuse. The city's law department has said an appeals court ruling mandates that Burge's legal fees be covered because he was working for the city when the alleged misconduct occurred.
Nearly all of the six men currently suing Burge spent decades in prison for wrongful convictions that hinged on confessions they say were tortured out of them, and several have been declared innocent by Cook County judges.
For alleged torture victim David Fauntleroy, it's been difficult to move on with his life after more than 25 years in prison because the Burge torture cases are still pending, said his attorney, Douglas B. Harper.
"What he sees now is the city spending millions of dollars to defend the people who wrongly incarcerated him," Harper said. "Money is the way that we compensate people in our society when something unjust occurs, so of course (Fauntleroy) is looking for money. But beyond money ... he's looking for an apology."
The men's attorneys wont' say exactly how much money they're asking for.
"I always say that the compensation that we're seeking in the cases is very substantial in light of the magnitude of the injury," said Locke Bowman, an attorney who represents three of the six men. "There comes a time when it's appropriate to clarify for everyone exactly what that means, but the outset of the case ... is not the optimal time to throw down that gauntlet."
They also say that if the city is willing to settle, that's news to them _ though they suggest it could be less expensive than defending the city against the claims.
"To date, we have not heard from (the mayor's office) or the corporation counsel," said Flint Taylor, whose People's Law Office represents three alleged torture victims along with Bowman. "And as we speak, a bevy of city lawyers continue to fight these cases and to spend unnecessary taxpayer dollars obstructing justice in the cases. We hope this will soon change given the mayor's statements."
"We're very pleased that he's acknowledged that these cases should and must be settled," Taylor said.
Emanuel didn't address how the city would fund any settlements. Chicago is struggling to close a budget deficit estimated at more than $635 million.
He also didn't tell the Sun Times whether his stance on settling torture cases would extend to claims that could be filed in the future. At least 15 men with torture claims against Burge or his officers are still incarcerated, and several are fighting for new evidentiary hearings. If they ultimately prevail in having their convictions overturned, they're likely to file suits as well.