“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).

More on the water cure

Another claim involving the water cure arose in 1962. Alex Gordon, along with several other Black men, was arrested in Chicago and accused of kidnapping. Before trial, his attorney, James Montgomery, claimed that the officers in the detective division who interrogated Gordon tortured him in an effort to make him confess. Speaking for his client, Montgomery charged the police pointed a gun at him during interrogation, hung him from his wrists until his skin peeled, and held his head under water for long periods (Chicago Defender, March 3, 1962, p. 2; Chicago Defender, May 9, 1962, p. 5). Four men were indicted for the crime; three pled guilty and the fourth was found guilty of robbery. Gordon was not among them (Chicago Tribune, October 30, 1962, p. 4).

Water cure, 1966

In the early evening of January 1, 1966, Chicago police officers arrested Fred Alexander and another man. The two, both of whom were Black, were taken to Area 1 headquarters.

At trial, Alexander testified that the officers cuffed him to a chair in the basement of the station and left him there for three hours. When they finally returned, the officers questioned Alexander about two recent robberies, one of which had involved the shooting of a bystander. Alexander testified that when he denied that he was involved, one of the officers hit him across the nose so hard he fell off the chair he was cuffed to. Then the officers kicked him and began to beat him with their fists and sticks. Alexander said that when he continued to deny that he was involved in the robberies, the officers took him to a nearby water fountain. There, they held his head under water three or four times.

At that point, Alexander confessed. Strangely, that confession was never reduced to writing. Instead, police officers testified about their memory of his oral confession at his trial. The only other evidence linking Alexander to the crimes was a gun that was found on the roof of Alexander’s apartment building. Other evidence presented at trial established that the gun, which was identified as the weapon used during the robberies, belonged to the man Alexander had been arrested with.

Alexander challenged his confession at his trial, arguing that it had been coerced by torture. To support his motion to suppress, he described his mistreatment at the hands of the police. He also offered testimony from the other man who had been arrested with him and a doctor from Provident Hospital, who treated him that evening. Both testified that they saw lacerations on Alexander’s face after his interrogation. The doctor also testified that he sutured a laceration on Alexander’s forehead. In addition, Alexander offered into evidence the “Inmate’s Record” that was prepared by an intake officer at Cook County Jail when Alexander was admitted following his interrogation. That official document recorded that at the time he was admitted to the jail Alexander had a cut on his left cheek and a “hemorrhage in the rt. eye–bad.”

The police officers who testified denied that anyone struck or otherwise abused Alexander. The judge, John Fitzgerald, who heard the case without a jury, denied the motion to suppress the confession. He found Alexander guilty and sentenced him to 1-5 years in prison.

On appeal, the First District Appellate Court reversed the verdict, relying on the “established rule that where an accused suffers injuries while in police custody, clear and convincing proof is required to establish that injuries are not the result of police brutality.” (Illinois v. Alexander, 96 Ill. App. 2d 113, 119-120 (1st Dist. 1968)). That court concluded that the police had failed to offer sufficient proof they had not caused Alexander’s injuries.