Book review

A nice review of my book by Mara Dodge in the September 2017 Journal of American History (unfortunately the rest is behind a paywall):

In Robert Nixon and Police Torture in Chicago Elizabeth Dale provides a thought-provoking, well-written, and meticulously researched history of police violence. Using newspaper accounts and the records of eighty-six court trials, she identifies four hundred cases involving defendants who claimed that police used force or coercion, usually in an effort to extract confessions. The coercive techniques included physical abuse, deprivation, psychological pressure, and holding suspects incommunicado. Dale, a former Chicago civil rights attorney and a professor of history and law, is ideally qualified to explore these issues.

 

 

A Forgotten Resource on Deadly Force in Chicago (1969-1970)

Recent efforts to investigate and prosecute Chicago police officers for shooting at, or killing, civilians have drawn attention (yet again) to the use of deadly force in that city and the difficulty of prosecuting those cases. But the problem is not a new one. In the two-year period from January 1969 through December 1970, Chicago police officers killed 79 civilians. A report prepared by the Chicago Law Enforcement Study Group established that civilians in Chicago had a higher risk of being killed by police than civilians in the four other largest cities in the country (New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Detroit) (Report, p. 11, 14).

More to the point, the report found that the majority of the people the police killed in that period were Black, male, and less than 25 years old. According to that report, Blacks in Chicago were six times more likely to be killed by a police officer than their white counterparts (Report, p. 74).

The report also concluded that police misconduct was involved in at least 37 % of the deadly force cases in that period (Report, Table 15 & p. 74). Yet in those 76 cases, there were no convictions.*  This was largely because the various groups charged with investigating or prosecuting absolved the police officers involved (Report, p. 38):

  1. Chicago police pressed criminal charges in only 2 cases.
  2. The Cook County state’s attorney’s office presented only 4 cases to the grand jury.
  3. The grand jury indicted only 1 officer.
  4. At trial, the one officer charged was acquitted.

In addition, the report noted that the Cook County Coroner’s Jury found the homicide justifiable in 65 cases, or resulted from an accident 9 times. The coroner’s jury concluded only 1 of those 76 cases involved involuntary manslaughter, and that only 1 of those cases seemed to be murder (Report, p. 40).

The Law Enforcement Study Group investigated criminal justice in Chicago between 1970 and 1985. Their research, which is gathered at the Chicago History Museum, looked at domestic violence (including police response to complaints by battered women), homelessness (including police treatment of homeless people), and the juvenile court system. In 1971, the group published a report on police use of deadly force in Chicago for 1969-1970. Unfortunately, that report, “The Police and Their Use of Fatal Force in Chicago,” is out of print and available at only a few libraries. But it is a study that should be given greater attention by those interested in the problems of criminal justice, police misconduct, and the use of deadly force by the police.

 

* Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were also killed by the police in this period. Their deaths, which were still being investigated when the report was completed were not included in these figures (Report, p. 37).

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.

Continue reading Monroe v. Pape & Police Torture

Police torture

What is police torture?

The United States Supreme Court, in Brown v. Mississippi (1936), equated “confessions obtained by violence” (p. 286) with torture and declared that by either name the practice was unconstitutional. In Chambers v. Florida (1940) the Supreme Court held that in some instances it was torture to when psychological (or mental) pressure was used to obtain a confession.

The view that police torture only occurs during interrogation is fairly standard. In 1931, the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (usually known as the Wickersham Commission) defined the third degree (which it used as a synonym for torture) as “the employment of methods which inflict suffering, physical or mental, upon a person in order to obtain information about a crime” (Wickersham Commission, Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, p. 19). The Commission noted that police in Chicago engaged in “brutal arrests,” but did not include that violence in its analysis of police torture in the city. Courts typically draw a similar distinction between abusive arrests and torture during interrogation, though a few victims have successfully connected violence at the time of arrest and during interrogation into a single claim of torture.

In contrast, the U.N. Convention Against Torture defines torture to include both acts that cause mental or physical pain to obtain information or when law enforcement or instances when government agents engage in the type of vigilante acts that Daniel LaChance aptly calls “street corner justice.” Article 1.1 of the Convention provides:

For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, 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, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Not guilty

Two Chicago police detectives, Michael Neary and Michael Vaughn, were briefly suspended in 1919 after they arrested Keith Southern (Chicago Tribune, January 3, 1920, p. 13). Southern claimed that while investigating car thefts in November 1919, the two officers beat him at the detective bureau, breaking his ribs in the process (Chicago Tribune, December 8, 1919, p. 17; Chicago Tribune, January 4, 1920, p. A5).

Neary and Vaughn claimed that Southern’s ribs were broken when they had to subdue him to arrest him. Southern pressed charges, but in January 1920 the Civil Service Board dismissed his claims. “There is almost no evidence against Neary,” Captain Coffin, who served as president of the board explained. Coffin admitted that there was “some evidence” against Vaughn, “but it is not enough to sustain the charges”(Chicago Tribune, January 9, 1920).