Torture panel must look beyond Burge

EDITORIALS

June 25, 2014 6:28PM

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Updated: July 28, 2014 6:13AM

The easiest thing to do with the Jaime Hauad case would be to quietly sweep it under the rug.

After all, Hauad was convicted 15 years ago of killing two Maniac Latin Disciples outside an Avondale bar and sentenced to life without parole. A witness and a surviving victim picked out Hauad in a photo lineup as someone they saw at the murder scene. The reliability of his memory has been questioned because in 2012 he forgot he had testified at 1998 hearing on a motion to suppress.

And yet, last week the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission came to a disturbing conclusion: There’s strong evidence that police tortured Hauad while he was in custody and some evidence that he may be entirely innocent.

But there’s an unfortunate catch. No matter how much the commission’s members worry Hauad’s case might be a miscarriage of justice, they can’t do anything about it. As interpreted by judicial rulings, the commission is charged with investigating only claims of torture by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and detectives who worked under him. In this case, one of the cops who Hauad said beat him was Joseph Miedzianowksi, who went on to be labeled the most corrupt cop in Chicago history and who is serving a life sentence. The commission has no authority to investigate claims of torture by Miedzianowksi.

That can’t be the last word here. Someone in authority should step up. The Legislature could vote to expand the commission’s authority to all police torture cases, not just those related to Burge. Gov. Pat Quinn’s office could dig into this case to see if it merits clemency. Or, as the commission suggested, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez could turn it over to her Conviction Integrity Unit to do a thorough re-investigation. We’d like to see all three of these avenues pursued.

Hauad, now 34, said police during an interrogation cut off the fronts of his gym shoes with a paper cutter and threatened to cut off his toes next if he didn’t confess. Police photos show Hauad’s gym shoes at first were in normal condition but later had their toe sections severed, just as Hauad said. Hauad also said he was slapped and beaten while in custody.

In 2001, a witness told the FBI he saw a different man commit the double murder for which Hauad was convicted. And the surviving victim later filed an affidavit saying he falsely placed Hauad near the shooting and in fact had not seen him at all that day.

Chicago has long struggled with the aftermath of an era when some police officers felt free to beat and torture suspects to get a confession. A special report found Burge and his “Midnight Crew” tortured suspects for more than two decades, and Chicago taxpayers have paid more than $50 million to compensate torture victims.

But we have a long way to go. Many men who say statements extracted through torture put them behind bars remain in prison, hoping for a new day in court. Those whose cases were connected to Burge may get a hearing through work by the torture inquiry commission or a separate class action lawsuit.

But about 130 of the alleged torture cases, including Hauad’s, are not connected to Burge.

The complaints in many of those cases may turn out to be baseless. Others, though, deserve a thorough airing.

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