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Monday, October 30, 2017

Still more from the police misconduct archives

This post continues my efforts to highlight underused archives that show the history of police misconduct in Chicago....

The research that culminated in Secret Detention by the Chicago Police in 1959 was part of a larger, decades long investigation into police misconduct conducted by the Illinois ACLU. The investigation began by exploring coerced confessions and ended with Calvin v. Conlisk in 1972. Special Collections at the University of Chicago Library has the Illinois ACLU files, which contain notes, correspondence, and pleadings relating to Calvin and some other cases that were part of this investigation. Those materials offer important background on the work done by the ACLU, the Afro American Patrolman’s League, and the Metcalfe Blue Ribbon Panel.

Several items are of interest to lawyers, activists, and scholars interested in police misconduct in Chicago:

The first is the merest hint found in a folder labelled “Illegal Police Procedures, 1952-1958,” in Box 508, Folder 5. The folder contains notes relating to Mallory v. U.S., 354 U.S. 449 (1957), which dealt with the legal limits on the use of confessions in federal court.  In Mallory, the Court found that when a suspect was held in custody and interrogated for several hours (from “Early afternoon” to 9:30 at night, when he confessed) without being advised of his right to counsel or being taken before a magistrate was denied the protections of Rule 5(a0 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Much of the material in the folder relate to efforts to oppose legislation that might undermine Mallory, and research relating to coerced confession cases in Illinois.

That folder contains a brief handwritten note, undated, that reads “Nuremberg Trials, vol. 6, reference to electric prodding” (emphasis in original). Then, after a scribbled-out part, the note reads: “Electric Prodder file” (I have been unable to locate such a file).

Claims that the Chicago police used electric prods on suspects were made in relation to the Jon Burge cases. The general consensus, following the major study of the Burge torture claims by John Conroy, is that Jon Burge learned to use electo-shock torture during his tour of duty in Vietnam and brought the practice back to the Chicago when he joined the police department in March 1970. My own research into police torture claims from Chicago between 1871-1971, has turned up a claim of electro-shock torture from 1970 (which did not, so far as I can tell, involve Burge), but none before that. So this brief entry in the ACLU file, which suggests that electro-shock torture was used in the 1950s, raises some important questions for future research.

The second section of this file that is of note relates to the incredible story of Emil Reck. Reck (who was white) was arrested with three other teens in 1936 and charged with the murder of a Chicago physician. Two of the defendants pled guilty, Reck and a fourth defendant went to trial. At trial, both defendants claimed that they were tortured by the Chicago police. Each claimed that officers (at different stations) hung them by their handcuffed wrists as part of their effort to get them to confess. Reck offered evidence of other physical torture, and the record showed that he was hospitalized twice while he was in police custody, once after he began to vomit blood.

Notwithstanding that evidence, the two were convicted. Reck was sentenced to prison for 199 years.

Reck was unable to afford to buy the transcript of his trial, and so the initial appeal of his case raised a dubious procedural claim based simply on materials in the public court files (People v. Reck 392 Ill. 311). Many years later, Reck filed a post-conviction petition contesting his conviction, arguing that he was coerced into confessing through the use of torture. At the post-conviction proceeding, the judge determined that Reck’s conviction should not be overturned. Various habeas claims followed.

Finally, in 1961, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear his case and reversed on the ground that his confession had been coerced. Unfortunately, the Court refused to examine his claims of physical torture and instead rested its decision on the evidence that he spent eight days in the custody of the Chicago police without access to a lawyer or family members. The Court also noted that Reck was only nineteen-years-old at the time, and had been repeatedly diagnosed as being “of subnormal intelligence.”

Finally, the Illinois ACLU files (Box 555, Folder 5) contain transcripts from various hearings in Reck’s long trek through the criminal justice system, pleadings, briefs, and research notes.

The ACLU files (Box 555, Folder 5) also contain materials relating to the police misconduct claims that formed the basis of Calvin v. Conlisk. The materials support the nearly contemporaneous work done by the Metcalfe Committee, and suggest patterns of abusive and harassing arrests that particularly targeted people of color in Chicago between the 1950s and early 1970s.

Posted by Elizabeth Dale on October 30, 2017 at 10:28 AM | Permalink


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