Civil Rights, News, Wrongful Convictions

Former Inmate Tells of Torture and a Forced Confession at the Hands of the Chicago Police

By Frederick H. Lowe

CHICAGO—Darrell Cannon spent 24 years and five months in prison after being tortured by disgraced former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge’s subordinates until he confessed to a murder he didn’t commit.

Darrell Cannon, one of the black men tortured by Chicago police.
Darrell Cannon, one of the black men tortured by the Chicago police. Photo by Owen Lawson

Cannon testified last week before Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee that Lt. Peter Dignan, Sgt. John Byrne and Detective Charles Grunhard handcuffed him behind his back, put the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger in a game of Russian Roulette.

“Nigger, you’re going to tell us what we want,” Dignan, Burge’s right-hand man, snarled.

The cops also used an electric cattle prod on his genitals, Cannon testified. “I looked at their faces, and they enjoyed what they were doing,” he said.

Cannon stopped several times to wipe his eyes and drink water during his testimony.

“I’m crying because I’m mad,” said Cannon who served his last four years in Tamms Correctional Center, the super maxx  prison in Tamms, Ill., where his bed was a concrete block.

Cannon called the cops members of the Klu Klux Klan. “They had badges instead of sheets,” he said.

Police arrested Cannon in 1983, and in 2004 prosecutors dropped all charges against him. Cannon has worked for seven years, and he hopes to work 10 years to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.

After he testified, he said something that shocked me. “Burge tainted the badge. Not all policemen are bad,” he said.

It was a day of surprises. While the reparations movement is on life support in the African-American community, mostly white women wearing t-shirts, printed with “Reparations Now” packed City Council chambers.

“I hate to put race on it, but whites have been the backbone of the movement. I think they are saying we didn’t like what happened to you and we’re not like that,” Cannon said.

The audience gave Cannon a standing ovation before he began to speak and after he finished speaking.

Cannon, who is 64, and was released in 2007, testified at a hearing about a $5.5 million reparation fund for black men tortured by Burge and his subordinates.

The historic agreement was reached by the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Amnesty International, USA and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.

Burge was commander of Area 2 and Area 3 on the South and West Sides, neighborhoods that are mostly African-American. Each man who can prove he was tortured by Burge and his so-called midnight crew will receive a maximum of $100,000.

Fifty to 65 men who have credible claims and who have not collected $100,000 or more from past lawsuits can apply for reparations, said G. Flint Taylor, partner in the People’s Law Office, which provided pro bono legal services. The process should take six to eight months before the men receive their money, Taylor added.

The Chicago  Torture  Justice Memorials and Mayor Emanuel’s office are charged with determining whether the men have made credible claims.

If the two sides cannot agree on payment to an individual, they will bring in an independent arbitrator, either a retired judge or a magistrate, to make the final decision, Taylor told NorthStar News Today.com and Blackmansstreet.Today.

In addition to the cash settlement, the men, their children and grandchildren will receive free tuition to attend Chicago’s community colleges.

The city also would work with partners to provide the men, some of whom are senior citizens, with jobs.

Burge use of torture also will be taught in the Chicago Public Schools. In addition, the ordinance would provide psychological or psychiatric help for the men who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of having been tortured.

The city also will make a public apology to the victims, build a permanent memorial to honor them and provide senior care services. The non-financial portion of the reparations applies to 120 men and their families.

Taylor said they have the names of all of the men Burge and his gang tortured. Some are dead, others have disappeared and still others remain in prison. If a man receives reparations, he must drop all legal claims he has against the city, said Joey Mogul, a partner in the People’s Law Office, testified during the hearing.

Burge and his crew’s testimony sent 10 men to death row.

Those 10 men remained there until 2003 when Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted their sentences. Gov. Ryan halted executions three years earlier after courts ruled that 13 men on death row had been wrongfully convicted.

Burge was fired in 1993 for abusing a prisoner. He was convicted of perjury in 2010 for lying about having tortured the accused men, but he was not prosecuted for torture because the statute of limitations had expired. A judge sentenced Burge to 4 ½ years in prison. He was released in October 2014.

Illinois pays a maximum of $199,150 for wrongfully convicted individuals who serve more than 14 years in prison, according to the Innocence Project, which is based in New York.

The Reparations Ordinance was introduced in 2013 by Chicago Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno and Howard Brookins.

“This torture was not in Syria, not in Iraq, not in North Korea; it was right here in Chicago,” Moreno said.

Cannon said when he receives his money, he will buy a motorcycle and ride it around City Hall.

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