“Shackled and strung up by the heels…”

Alex Gordon‘s claim that the Chicago police officers who interrogated him hanged him by his wrists during their interrogation echoed charges made by other men in other decades. In 1928, Kenneth Cope claimed that he was subject to a range of mistreatment while he was interrogated about a robbery by officers at the Gresham police station. According to Cope, over the course of several hours police officers, including chief of detectives Michael Grady, hit and kicked him in the shins, and hit him on the back and stomach with their fists and blackjacks. Cope claimed that at one point in his interrogation he was taken to the station gymnasium, where they put cuffs around his ankles and then suspended him from some bars in the gym for about five minutes, while one of the officers hit him. Ultimately, Cope confessed to the crime.

At trial, Cope tried to keep the jury from hearing his confession, arguing that he falsely confessed as a result of the torture. The trial judge, William Gemmill, denied the motion and allowed the confession into evidence. Cope then took the stand to tell the jury about his abuse at the hands of the police. Some, but not all of the police officers who interrogated Cope testified and denied that they had hit or harmed him in any way. The jury found Cope guilty.

The Supreme Court of Illinois reversed. Writing regarding Cope’s claim that he was tortured into confessing, that court wrote

The defendant’s statement that he was shackled and strung up by the heels and was beaten by the chief of detectives of the city of Chicago and the desk sergeant at the police station to force a confession from him was competent evidence, and current history indicates that it was not manifestly incredible. (Illinois v. Cope, 345 Ill. 278, 285 (1931).

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Writer. Formerly civil rights attorney. Currently professor. Working on new book about mental disability and criminal law in the 20th century.

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