[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hree people were arrested in front of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office at City Hall on Tuesday.
They were part of a die-in demonstration of about 50 community activists and clergy who are demanding more accountability regarding police conduct in Chicago. The group claims Emanuel’s failed policies have allowed police brutality to remain unchecked.
Facing an unprecedented runoff election with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on April 7, officials from the mayor’s office agreed to set up a meeting with activists to talk about an independent citizen oversight of police, ending the city’s stop and frisk policy and reforming the body camera pilot program and other reforms, activists told EXTRA Tuesday evening.
“We didn’t expect that to happen. We thought there were going to be arrests and that’s it,” said Ivan Moreno, one of the activists at Tuesday’s demonstration. “So we’ll see. The mayor agreed to a meeting but he hasn’t committed to changing anything yet.”
Tuesday’s demonstration is the latest in a series of protest actions by activists who claim the terror and brutality of Chicago police goes far beyond the department’s now infamous Homan Square facility.
“Chicagoans are coming forward to tell the truth about the Chicago Police Department’s off-the-books detainment center at Homan Square,” said Attorney Blake Horwitz.
Horwitz filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of John Vergara, Carlos Ruiz and Jose Garcia last Friday over their alleged mistreatment at the hands of Chicago police at the facility four years ago.
The suit alleges all three men were at the Paseo Boricua Grocery and Deli, 2706 West Division Street, on Sept. 29, 2011, when three armed police officers wearing masks entered the business and demanded Vergara and Garcia put their hands on the deli counter and asked Ruiz to lie down on the ground.
The three officers then reportedly searched the three Hispanic men and took their personal belongings before handcuffing them without having any “legal justification to stop or detain the plaintiffs,” said the suit. The suit further alleges none of the arresting officers had witnessed Vergara, Ruiz or Garcia violate any law seven days prior to their arrest. Once in custody, the three men were placed in a police vehicle and taken to a police warehouse at the intersection of South Homan Street and West Filmore Avenue known as Homan Square, the suit alleges.
“[The] Plaintiffs were taken to Homan Square where they were handcuffed to a cell wall for eight to nine hours, denied access to attorneys, threatened with criminal charges and refused requests for food, water and access to a restroom,” said a release sent out by Horwitz last Friday.
The suit alleges the arresting officers failed to read the three men their Miranda rights and tried to “coerce false confessions” out of them. After being in custody for hours, Vergara recalled the name of civil rights attorney Blake Horwitz and asked to speak to him. Horwitz successfully won a $28 million verdict in 1999 against the city of Chicago in a police brutality case, the largest award of damages ever in a Chicago police misconduct case. One of the police officers reportedly asked Vergara if he intended to tell Horwitz about his experiences at Homan Square before saying, “If you’re going to tell Blake, I’m going to pin a case on you and everybody else in here.”
Soon after, the three officers reportedly offered to release Vergara, Ruiz and Garcia on the condition they not talk to Horwitz, reveal information about what happened to them at Homan Square, or file lawsuits against the police officers. Intimidated by threats from the officers, the three men agreed and were returned to Paseo Boricua, the suit alleges.
“Until publication of details about Homan Square in The Guardian newspaper, [the] plaintiffs…did not speak to attorneys about their experience at Homan Square because they were afraid of police and concerned for the safety of their families,” said the suit.
Homan Square made international headlines after the British newspaper The Guardian began publishing a series focused on the facility that described it as the domestic equivalent of a CIA style “black site.” The series alleges Homan is one of many sites used by police to illegally detain and interrogate people in secret in order to keep them out of booking databases where public defenders, attorneys or relatives can find them.
“While it may look like an ordinary warehouse on the outside, those who have been held at Homan Square say on the inside it compares to the terrorist detention center in Guantanamo Bay,” said Horwitz.
The Homan Square facility has been owned and operated by the Chicago Police Department since 1999. And while it serves a number of functions, some of which police describe as “sensitive,” officials deny Homan Square is a secret facility.
“Homan Square is home to CPD’s Evidence and Recovered Property Section, which is open to the public. Homan Square is the only CPD facility where members of the public can collect evidence recovered during a now complete criminal investigation, or found property,” said a factsheet sent to EXTRA by Martin Maloney, director of the Chicago Police Department’s Office of News Affairs, last Friday.
Homan Square is also the base of operations for officers working sensitive assignments that include the Bureau of Organized Crime (including the narcotics unit), the city’s SWAT Unit, evidence technicians and the CPD ballistics lab.
The police factsheet went on to say Homan Square contains several “standard interview rooms” and, like the rest of the department’s facilities, it keeps records of anyone who is arrested by police who is taken to Homan Square. Police added that most of the people interviewed there are “lower-level arrests” related to the narcotics unit’s work.
“Recently, there have been a series of inaccurate and misleading articles regarding CPD facilities and procedures,” said Maloney in an email to EXTRA last Friday. “Arrest and interview procedures are matters of people’s most basic rights, and CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility.”
In the email, Maloney also directed any further requests for comment about the suit to the city’s Department of Law.
Last Friday, EXTRA reached out to the Federal Civil Rights Litigation Department, the division of the city’s Law Department that handles federal lawsuits filed against the city and police department, with a request for comment.
“We just received this suit and we are in the process of reviewing it. What we do know is that these individuals were present when a search warrant was executed which resulted in the recovery of 180 grams of cocaine, along with cash,” said John Holden, the Chicago Department of Law’s director of public affairs, in a statement sent out later that day. “We believe that this case should be dismissed on legal grounds. We intend to vigorously defend against it.”