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$12.3 million settlement in police torture case spares Daley from testifying

At September 2012 event Ronald Kitchen discusses his time spent behind bars for crime he didn't commit. | Sun-Times Media

At a September 2012 event, Ronald Kitchen discusses his time spent behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 7, 2013 1:10PM

Chicago taxpayers will spend $12.3 million to compensate two more exonerated inmates who claim they were tortured into false confessions by convicted former Area 2 Cmdr. Jon Burge, keeping former Mayor Richard M. Daley off the hot seat.

The identical $6.15 million settlements will go to Ronald Kitchen and Marvin Reeves, who spent more than two decades in prison for the 1988 murders of five they did not commit.

It marks the third time that cases settled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel have spared Daley from answering questions under oath about allegations that — as state’s attorney and as mayor — he failed to investigate police torture allegations against Burge and participated in a conspiracy to cover it up.

Flint Taylor, an attorney representing Kitchen, had no immediate comment on the settlements, now before the City Council’s Finance Committee.

In February, Kitchen’s attorneys asked a federal judge to force Daley to testify in the former inmate’s lawsuit against the city and Burge. Daley was Cook County state’s attorney when prosecutors pushed for the death penalty against Kitchen.

Kitchen was released from prison in 2009 after his conviction was overturned. He wanted Daley to testify about what he knew and when about one of the ugliest and most undermining chapters in the history of the Chicago Police Department: the systematic torture of African-American suspects under Burge.

In court papers, Kitchen’s attorneys even went so far as to promise not to ask Daley about the December indictment of his nephew R.J. Vanecko on involuntary manslaughter charges.

“Mr. Daley and his city lawyers have consistently resisted voluntarily producing Mr. Daley concerning the matters alleged in this case and in the cases filed on behalf of other wrongfully convicted victims of Burge and his men,” their filing stated.

“He should not be permitted to indefinitely evade questioning regarding these matters simply because he was once — but is no more — the mayor of Chicago.”

Daley was in China and unavailable for comment.

Two years ago, another federal judge asked why the city hadn’t settled the suit, given Kitchen’s exoneration and Burge’s incarceration.

Burge was convicted in June 2010 of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying in a civil court case when asked if he knew of the alleged torture that went on under his watch. He is serving a four-year sentence in federal prison.

Kitchen spent 21 years in prison, 13 of them on Death Row, for the 1988 murders of two women and three children on the South Side, only to be released and exonerated in 2009.

His lawsuit alleged that Kitchen was arrested after an erroneous tip from a convicted burglar-turned-jailhouse informant and that the same informant made incriminating remarks against Reeves.

During 16 hours of questioning, Kitchen claims he was beaten with fists, a phone book and a telephone receiver and had his genitals bashed with a nightstick. Kitchen was so badly injured while also being denied food and sleep that he required medical treatment, the suit contended.

In 2006, a long-awaited special prosecutor’s report concluded that Burge and his Area 2 cohorts tortured criminal suspects for two decades while police brass looked the other way. But the report concluded that it was late to prosecute because the statute of limitations has long since run out.

Daley, who was state’s attorney during the 1980s, was faulted for failing to follow up on a 1982 letter from then Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek that strongly suggested abuse in the case of accused cop killer Andrew Wilson.

The man who would go on to become Chicago’s longest-serving mayor responded by accepting his share of responsibility for what he called “this shameful episode in our history.” But he categorically denied that he deliberately looked the other way.

“Do you think I would sit by, let anyone say that police brutality takes place, I know about it, that I had knowledge about it and I would allow it? Then you don’t know my public career. You don’t know what I stand for,” Daley said then.

African-American aldermen said they were not at all disappointed that the former mayor has, once again, avoided testifying under oath about Burge’s reign of terror.

“The truth is being told now because they’re being released and we’ve been sued and having to bleed for more and more money,” said Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee.

“To say [to Daley], `Tell me the truth.’ How will that further this bleeding? What will it do, just to [hear him] say, `Okay, I’m the one. I knew about it.’ It doesn’t [accomplish anything]. It’s enough that these men were wrongly convicted. Now, to pour salt on it to say that, `You knew we were wrongly convicted’? What is that going to do for the individual who has spent 20 or 25 years in jail? What restitution will they get out of that?”

Reeves and Kitchen were co-defendants in the 1988 murder of five. They were released from prison on the same day, hours after prosecutors dropped charges saying there was insufficient evidence to try the two men again.

Phone records subsequently poked holes in the jailhouse informant’s story. Prosecutors also failed to tell defense attorneys that the informant had been released from prison early in exchange for his cooperation.

Emanuel set aside $27.3 million to settle lawsuits for all of 2013.

The settlements expected to be approved by the Finance Committee on Friday bring the tab for police abuse and misconduct cases resolved this year to at least $77 million. The city’s overall tab for Burge-related cases now tops $83 million. The combined total for the city and county is $95.5 million.


Twitter: @fspielman

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