Monroe v. Pape & Police Torture

Fifty-five years ago, in 1962, a trial based on civil rights claim filed by James and Flossie Monroe began in the federal district court in Chicago. The suit sought damages against five Chicago police officers: Lieutenant Frank Pape, Captain Howard Pierson, Sergeant Edward Cagney, and detectives John Bosquette and Edward Bray. At the end of the trial the jury awarded the Monroes $13,000, which would be worth just over $104,000 in 2017.

Although recognized as an important civil rights case, Monroe v. Pape should be remembered as a police torture claim as well.

The Monroes’s case took a long time to reach that federal courtroom. It began just before sunrise one morning in October 1958, when eight detectives led by Pape entered the Monroe apartment on Trumbull avenue on Chicago’s Southside. The detectives, who did not have a search warrant, were investigating the murder of Peter Saisi. Saisi’s wife told police that two black men had murdered her husband. After viewing photos at the police station she identified James Monroe as one of the men she saw come to her house just before her husband was killed.

Once inside the Monroe apartment, the officers ordered Monroe, his wife, and their six children out of bed, and forced Monroe and his wife to stand naked in the living room while they ransacked the house looking for evidence that might tie Monroe to the murder. When one of the older children complained about what was happening, he was struck by an officer and thrown onto one of his brothers. When another child tried to leave the apartment to get help, the officers forcibly restrained her. To keep the family subdued, some of the officers drew their guns and trained them on the Monroes while other officers completed the search.

The police found no evidence linking Monroe to the murder. in the apartment. Undeterred, the officers ordered James Monroe to dress, handcuffed him, and took him to police headquarters at 11th and State.

1121 S. State, Police Headquarters

There, he was questioned for hours. Although Mrs. Saisi could not identify Monroe when she viewed him in a lineup around 10:00 that morning, Monroe remained in custody into the afternoon, allegedly because two detectives claimed he was a suspect in several robberies. Finally, at 4:00 p.m. the police released Monroe without charging him. A few days later, Mrs Saisi confessed that she and her lover, Richard Lansing, had killed her husband for his life insurance.

Monroe and his wife filed a federal lawsuit under Section 1983, a Reconstruction Era federal law passed as part of the Third Ku Klux Klan Act in 1871. Section 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

In their lawsuit, the Monroes charged that Pape and the other officers had violated their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. The first judge to hear their case, Julius Hoffman, dismissed the claims and the seventh circuit court of appeals affirmed that decision in 1959. Then in 1961, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the lower courts in an opinion by Justice Douglas. The Supreme Court held that the congressional debates over the provisions of the Civil Rights Act that included Section 1983 proved that the section was intended to permit lawsuits against police officers whose conduct violated provisions of the Constitution of the United States. Because the Supreme Court ordered the case to trial, the Monroe’s lawsuit finally went to trial before a jury in December 1962 in Judge Parsons’s courtroom.

Monroe v. Pape is justly famous as the Supreme Court decision that revived Section 1983, making it possible for victims of police misconduct to bring civil rights suits against police officers. Few recognize that it was also a police torture case. As Justice Douglas noted in his opinion for the Supreme Court, the Monroe’s complaint alleged that the police held James Monroe incommunicado for nearly twelve hours. In addition, the complaint alleged that the officers who arrested Monroe beat him and at least one of his children during the arrest.

Illinois law has long provided that holding suspects incommunicado without access to lawyers, friends, family, or a judge is a form of torture (Illinois v. Frugoli, 334 Ill. 324 (1927). And the 1931 study of the third degree in the United States prepared by the Wickersham Commission determined that police officers in Chicago used summary punishment against some suspects, a form of physical violence the Commission considered torture (Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, pp. 127-128). Recently, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment agreed with the Wickersham Commission, defining torture to include “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, [that] is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as . . . Punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person (Article 1).”

The Monroes were not the only people to say that Pape and his men tortured them. In 1948, Renoro Lolli, who was suspected of murder and robbery, allegedly confessed after being slapped around and questioned overnight by Pape and his men in the robbery bureau. In 1960, George Wilson and William Perkins claimed that Pape and several other officers tortured them to make them confess to the murder of a postal inspector. Perkins claimed that he only confessed after he was beaten on the stomach and chest, and hit across the back of his neck. Wilson said that he confessed after being beaten while he was cuffed to a chair, and that he had been forced to sign a confession that he was unable to read. Judges and jurors did not credit any of those claims, and Lolli, Perkins, and Wilson were all convicted.

In 1961, as the Monroe’s case against him was pending before the Supreme Court, Pape took a leave of absence from the police department and became head of security at the Chicago race tracks. Four years later, while Blacks in Englewood held protest marches over police brutality at the Englewood police station, Chicago Police Superintendent O.W. Wilson rehired Pape. Ignoring the march organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Congress of Racial Equality to protest the plan to rehire Pape, Wilson, usually thought of as a police reformer, reinstated Pape, who remained on the force until 1972.

Sources: Monroe v. Pape, 272 F. 2d 365 (7th Cir. 1959); “City, 13 Cops Hit by $570,00 suit,” Chicago Defender, March 14, 1959, 9; “Pick Jury in $200,000 Civil Rights Case,” Chicago Defender, November 6, 1962, 5; “Order Pape, 4 Others to Pay $13,000,” Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1962, p. 1; “March Against Police Brutality, Cop’s Recall,” Chicago Defender, April 24, 1965, 1; “‘May Day March’ to Protest Pape,” Chicago Defender, April 28, 1965, 3; “Capt. Pape Returns to Duty with Police,” Chicago Tribune, May 4, 1965, p. B10.

See also: Myriam Giles and Risa Goluboff, editors, Civil Rights Stories (2007); People v. George Wilson, 29 Ill. 2d 82 (1963);

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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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