CHICAGO – CHICAGO (AP) — A former Chicago police official charged with lying about the torture of suspects testified Monday that the fact that he named one of his boats "Vigilante" doesn't reflect his attitude about taking the law into his own hands.
Former Lt. Jon Burge has pleaded not guilty to federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges. He's accused of lying in a civil lawsuit when he denied ever seeing or participating in the torture of suspects in the 1970s and 1980s.
Burge continued those denials during a sometimes heated cross-examination from Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weisman on Monday. He repeated that he'd never physically abused a suspect to get a confession and that he'd never seen any other officer do so.
"You're proud of your reputation for taking the law into your own hands?" Weisman asked.
"That's a 'when did you stop beating your wife?' question," Burge shot back.
Weisman pressed Burge again, asking if he ever bragged about his reputation, including naming his boat "Vigilante" — a word describing a self-appointed lawman.
Burge acknowledged the word's meaning but said he picked the boat's name at random.
Burge's name has become synonymous with police brutality in Chicago. Allegations first surfaced decades ago that he and his men shocked, suffocated and beat suspects in order to get confessions to crimes ranging from robbery to murder. Over the years, Burge and other officers have testified in both police and civil proceedings that they never coerced confessions.
Burge was fired from the police department in 1993 over the alleged mistreatment of a suspect, but he was never criminally charged in the case. No other officer has faced criminal charges related to allegations of torture.
Also Monday, an inmate testified that Cook County Jail detainees in the 1980s used to gather to make up stories about being abused by Burge and his officers in order to get out of their cases.
Ricky Shaw, clad in an orange prison jumpsuit and shackles at his wrists and ankles, told jurors that then-gang leader Melvin Jones asked him to help get new arrivals at the jail to concoct stories about Area 2, the police station where Burge was working at the time. Shaw testified that Jones had told him he'd made up his own allegations of being shocked and beaten. Jones testified earlier for the prosecution.
On cross examination, Shaw acknowledged that he'd been disciplined in prison for providing false information to authorities. He said he's reported misconduct of some kind to officials at every prison facility he's been housed at during the last 23 years. He's serving a 50-year sentence for armed robbery.