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Rahm Emanuel says he’s ‘working toward’ settling Burge torture cases

Mayor Rahm Emanuel former Chicago Police Commander JBurge. | Sun-Times files

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:29AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday he is “working towards” settling outstanding police torture allegations against convicted former Area 2 Cmdr. Jon Burge because it’s “time we end” one of the ugliest chapters in the history of the Chicago Police Department.

“We have a future to build — not a past to settle. That’s what I look at,” the mayor said in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

“How old is this now — 30 years old? ... It is time we end it.”

Emanuel talked about the possibility of compensating Michael Tillman and other victims of police torture, even as he defended his decision to provide a legal defense for former Mayor Richard M. Daley for his role in the case.

Daley has received notice to appear for a Sept. 8 deposition, now that U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer has ruled that the former mayor can be sued as a defendant.

If the case is settled, the deposition will be avoided. Daley will not have to answer questions from attorneys representing alleged victims, all African-American, who charge their abuse came at the hands of a small band of predominantly white police officers under Burge’s Area 2 command.

“I know we can settle — and we’re working towards that. … Settlement is a possibility,” the mayor said.

“But, in the case itself right now, I don’t have a choice. ... As it relates to the former mayor’s legal expenses, it is an ordinance of the city and it’s required. I don’t relish this. It’s what’s required. I’ve got to do it.”

Last week the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed that Pallmeyer had ruled that Daley can be sued as a defendant against allegations that he helped engineer a citywide conspiracy to cover up the torture allegations.

Emanuel responded by walking a political tightrope on the never-ending Burge controversy. He argued that Burge should be denied a city pension, but that Daley must be provided with a legal defense for his role in the case.

“I answered one question. Some people say, ‘This pulls Rahm into it.’ ... That’s wrong. ... This is like the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” the mayor said Monday.

“This is the law. He’s allowed to have the cost of his legal defense … That’s it. I’m not part of it.”

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

The Burge case has already cost Chicago taxpayers more than $43 million in settlements and outside legal fees.

Civil rights attorney Flint Taylor has urged Emanuel to enter into settlement negotiations to make a clean break with an ugly past that has undermined police-community relations in African-American neighborhoods.

“What’s happening now is the city is throwing good money after bad by defending the indefensible. It’s totally established that Burge tortured these people, yet the defense goes on,” Taylor told the Sun-Times last week.

“Not only should he resolve these cases so taxpayers can compensate the victims rather than the torturers. He should apologize to the African-American community and to the victims for this pattern of torture.”

In 2008, the City Council approved a $19.8 million settlement with four alleged torture victims, but Tillman’s case and others remain unsettled.

Tillman spent 23 1/2 years in the penitentiary based on a tortured confession. He has now been declared innocent by the chief judge of Criminal Court.

Sources close to Daley have argued that the former mayor’s deposition is “not a done deal” because attorneys representing the former mayor have filed a motion to reconsider.

They’re trying to block the deposition on grounds that Daley’s involvement in the case stems from his tenure as state’s attorneys and that prosecutors have “absolute immunity.”

A $7 million report by special prosecutors concluded that Burge and his Area 2 underlings tortured criminal suspects for two decades while police brass looked the other way. But the report concluded it’s too late to prosecute because the statute of limitations has long since run out.

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