Stock Yards Station, 1902

Those who objected to the abuse of Oscar Thompson mentioned other cases of sweatbox methods, including the mistreatment of Hugh Reilly (sometimes referred to as Hugh O’Reilly) in their complaints. After patrol officer Patrick Duffy was murdered in broad daylight on 43rd Street in 1902, the police pulled more than 50 men in for questioning. Reilly was not one of them; instead he was picked up after his former girl friend told the police that he had been involved in the crime. An eye witness to Duffy’s murder identified Reilly as one of the men she saw with Duffy just before his death. Reilly was charged, tried, and sentenced to 14 years in prison on the basis of the confession he gave to officers at the Stock Yards station (Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1902, p.3; Chicago Tribune, September 10, 1902, p. 5; Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1902, p. 3).

During the investigation, officers at the Stock Yards station readily admitted that they put Reilly through three days of “almost constant sweatbox process” (Chicago Tribune, May 10, 1902, p. 5). More details came out that fall. According to the Chicago Tribune, Reilly was taken into a private office in the station to be questioned by several officers. Outside the office,

the assembled newspaper reporters and others could hear the cries of the prisoner and the shouts of the police. A half hour later the man who had entered the room erect and defiant emerged, trembling and leaning on the shoulder of a policeman for support. HIs face was bruised and blackened, his eyes swollen, and groans escaped him as he was led to the cell room below. At the next ‘cross questioning’ of the man, a confession was secured (Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1902, p. 1).

At trial, the issue of way the police obtained Reilly’s confession was never raised. One juror, however, argued there was another problem with Reilly’s interactions with the police: According to Reilly’s confession, he first saw Officer Duffy on the street as Duffy was walking back to the station from lunch and Reilly was walking past a house that he was considering burglarizing. Duffy stopped Reilly, searched him, and then the two got into an argument. During that argument, Duffy was shot. Reilly claimed Duffy was killed by another man who was with him. During the jury deliberations, one unnamed juror argued that Duffy had no grounds to arrest Reilly without a warrant, and that it was Duffy’s own fault he was killed. But while the juror held out for several hours, in the end the other jurors prevailed and the jury returned a verdict of guilty (Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1902, p. 5).

Fillmore station

On February 27, 1956, Isaac Berger, a white grocer, was killed during a robbery at his store. A witness said that three young black men tried to rob the store, and that Berger was killed when he tried to resist. A few weeks later, officers at the Fillmore police station on Chicago’s west side reported that they were charging two young black men, De Soto Allen, a seventeen-year-old high school student, and Robert Jackson, who was twenty-three, for the murder (Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1956, p. 2).

The two were indicted, along with a third man, Donald Wilson, who was charged with renting Jackson the gun used in the crime. At trial, Allen and Jackson denied that they were involved in Berger’s murder. The prosecution claimed that Allen and Jackson had jointly confessed to the crime. Although Jackson’s attorney objected to the introduction of the confession, the trial judge, Daniel Roberts, admitted it into evidence. At the close of trial, Judge Roberts, who was hearing the case without a jury, found Allen and Jackson guilty and sentenced them to 30 years in prison (Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1956, p. A4; Chicago Tribune, November 26, 1956, p. A6). He found Wilson not guilty.

On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that considering the confession without first having a hearing on whether it was voluntary violated Jackson’s rights. The court sent the case back down for a hearing on whether Jackson’s confession was voluntary (Illinois v. Jackson, 31 Ill.2d 408 (1964)).

At that hearing, Jackson testified that several officers at the Fillmore station questioned him about the gun that was used during the murder. He said that during the interrogation he was taken down to the basement of the station, where a bag was placed over his head. He also claimed he was hit on the head, behind one ear, and beaten in the stomach by several of the officers. He also claimed that his request to make a phone call was ignored. His sisters testified that when they went to the station a few hours after Jackson’s arrest, they were told he was not there. His mother testified that when she tried to see her son she was not allowed to do so.

The officers denied that they hit or otherwise harmed Jackson. The prosecution also presented evidence that Jackson had not complained to anyone about any abuse before the trial. At the end of the hearing, the judge ruled that the confession had not been coerced. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court deferred to the trial judge’s determination that the confessions were not coerced and affirmed Jackson’s conviction (Illinois v. Jackson, 41 Ill. 2d 102 (1968)).

Not long after Allen and Jackson’s trial in 1956,  Donald Wilson filed suit against officers at the Filmore station. Wilson, a former security guard, claimed that while he was in custody at the Fillmore station he was beaten so severely by several officers that he was permanently disabled (Chicago Defender (daily edition), June 28, 1956, p. 2;  Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1956, p. A4; Chicago Tribune, November 26, 1956, p. A6).

In 1958, a federal grand jury began to investigate claims that officers at the Fillmore street station abused black youth in custody. One witness, Edward Byrd, told the grand jury that while he was questioned at the Fillmore station the officer interrogating him typed up a confession and told him to sign it. When he refused, since he had not confessed to anything, Byrd said the officer began to beat him (Chicago Defender, April 12, 1958, p. 3).

Two months later, the grand jury indicted two officers from the Fillmore station, Ernest Charles and Nathaniel Crossley. The two were charged with beating and whipping eighteen-year-old James Halsell in 1957 (Chicago Defender, June 12, 1958, p. 1). This was not the first time someone claimed to have been beaten by Charles and Crossley. In 1957, two black teens, Ermon Bryant and James Hill claimed the officers beat them to get them to confess to robbing a gas station (Chicago Defender, October 17, 1957, p. 4). In addition, Charles was one of the officers that Donald Wilson and Robert Jackson charged had beaten them at the Fillmore station in 1956. (Chicago Defender, November 27, 1956, p. A6; Illinois v. Jackson, 41 Ill. 2d 102).

Crossley went to trial in federal court in 1960 (Charles had died before the case went to trial). At trial, Halsell, Bryant, and others testified that they had been beaten at the Fillmore station.  The defense called fifteen people, mostly police officers, who testified that they never saw or heard any abuse at the station. After deliberating for ten hours, a jury of six men and six women found Crossley not guilty (Chicago Tribune, October 21, 1960, p. 20; Chicago Tribune, November 2, 1960, p. B2).

 

 

Suspended from a door

Arthur LaFrana was arrested on December 30, 1937. Over the next several days, he was questioned about a number of robberies and confessed to two, one involving a bakery and another involving a liquor store. On December 31, the police began to interrogate him about another robbery, of a movie theater, where a cashier was murdered in the course of the crime. LaFrana denied that he was involved in the movie theater robbery for several days. Finally, on January 3, LaFrana admitted that he had robbed the theater and killed the cashier in the process and signed a confession to that effect.

When he was tried on the murder charge, LaFrana tried to prevent his confession from being admitted into evidence. He claimed that he had only confessed after being subject to an extensive third degree. He testified that on January 3 he was told that two other men had confessed and implicated him in the crime. When he continued to deny that he was involved, the captain who was interrogating him

hit him repeatedly with his fists and with a night stick. His hands were then handcuffed behind him and he was blindfolded. A rope was put in between the handcuffs and he was suspended from a door with his hands behind him and his feet almost off the floor. While he was hanging from the door, he was repeatedly struck until he lapsed into unconsciousness. When he lost consciousness he was taken down from the door and when he regained consciousness he would be hung back up on the door and again questioned and struck. After about fifteen minutes of this treatment he agreed to sign a confession.

Illinois v. LaFrana, 4 Ill. 2d 261, 265 (1954)

LaFrana also presented evidence that when he was booked at Cook County Jail on January 11, 1938, the county physician noted on his intake form that LaFrana had a black eye and abrasions on both his wrists. LaFrana also put into evidence a newspaper photo that showed he had several cuts on his face and a black eye. 4 Ill. 2d at 267-268.

The captain who obtained LaFrana’s confession took the stand and told a very different story. He claimed that LaFrana tried to escape and had to be subdued as a result. But he denied that LaFrana had been subject to any other harm at the station, and two other officers who testified agreed that they never saw LaFrana beaten. 4 Ill. 2d at 266. The trial judge, Thomas Kluczynski, denied the motion to suppress the confession and admitted it into evidence. LaFrana was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

After a lengthy series of appeals, his case reached the Illinois Supreme Court. In November 1954, that court reversed LaFrana’s conviction for murder on the ground that the evidence presented by the prosecution at his trial did not disprove LaFrana’s claim that his confession had been coerced.

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.

Occasional victories

Many of the people who claimed they were tortured by police between 1871 and 1971 were unable to convince jurors or judges at their trials of the truth of their claims. Once convicted, most could not afford to bring an appeal, and few of those who could appeal were able to convince the appellate judges to reverse their convictions.  But every so often, a person who claimed to have been tortured into confessing to a crime in Chicago did win.

In September 1946, Leslie Wakat was arrested by Chicago police officers at the Town Hall police station on suspicion of being involved in an arson and burglary at the Lakeview Tool and Die Company in Chicago.

At trial, Wakat and his attorneys tried to keep his confession out of evidence on the ground that he had been tortured into confessing. In his testimony, Wakat described abuse that went on for several hours: He said he was taken to the scene of the time by several officers, and while there had his handcuffed arms twisted behind his back by Officer Harlib and hit in the face several times. Once back at the Town Hall station, he was beaten for half an hour by several officers using a blackjack, a sandbag, and a stick. Then, after a brief period in several other offices in the station, he was taken back to the first room, and beaten until he lost consciousness. He claimed that officers  revived him with whisky and, while he was intoxicated, had him sign a statement. At trial, the officers (and attorneys) present during Wakat’s interrogations denied that anyone beat him. One officer, Suckow, testified at trial that Wakat fell down the stairs; another officer, Harlib, testified that he and Wakat both fell down a flight of stairs as a result of a scuffle at the station. At trial, the jury did not believe Wakat; he was convicted and sentenced to 10-20 years in prison.

Though it took more than a decade, Wakat ultimately managed to convince four different courts to listen to and accept his claims.

  1. Several years after his conviction, Wakat filled a post conviction petition before Judge Graber of the Cook County courts. In his petition, Wakat asked to have his conviction overturned because his constitutional rights were violated when the police coerced his confession and because police offered perjured testimony at his trial. After a hearing, Judge Graber ruled for Wakat and ordered the state to give him a new trial.
  2.  That decision was affirmed on appeal by the Illinois Supreme Court, Illinois v. Wakat, 415 Ill. 610 (1953),  in an opinion written by Justice Walter V. Schaefer. Justice Schaefer noted that “there is neither doubt nor denial that [Wakat] sustained serious injuries while in police custody after his arrest.” (p. XX). Schaefer pointed to the testimony of a county jail physician, who saw Wakat on September 27, three days after his arrest, and described Wakat as having bruises, a broken hand, and injuries to his leg and knee. Wakat had to be hospitalized for more than ten days for those injuries.
  3. After the state decided not to retry Wakat, he sued and won damages against the arresting officers in a federal civil rights case.
  4. That verdict was affirmed on appeal by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Wakat v. Harlib, 253 F. 2d 59 (7th Cir. 1958).

A year later, the ACLU of Illinois published a booklet called Secret Detention by the Chicago Police (1959). Wakat’s mistreatment at the hands of the Chicago police was one of the subjects of that study.