Former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge denies torturing suspects as he takes stand in own defense
CHICAGO – CHICAGO (AP) — A former police lieutenant whose name has become synonymous with police brutality in Chicago ended years of silence about allegations that suspects were tortured under his watch, testifying Thursday at his perjury trial that he never beat, shocked or suffocated anyone into giving confessions.
"No sir, I did not," Jon Burge, 62, said in federal court.
For years, the mention of Burge's name has triggered anger in the black community over allegations made by dozens of men that Burge and his officers tortured them into confessing to crimes. And when Burge — who was fired in 1993 over alleged mistreatment of a suspect — retired to a quiet life in Florida and collected his police pension, many claimed that was proof the department and the city accepted brutality from members of its police force.
On the stand, the white-haired Burge was at times confident, even cocky, explaining that suspects willingly gave confessions to him and other officers — in one case after less than 20 minutes in custody — because of their effective interrogation techniques, not because of torture.
At other times, he was angry, volleying barbs back and forth with Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weisman.
"My story's completely true, counselor, and I don't know what you're trying to say," Burge said.
"I think I've said enough," Weisman retorted.
"I think you have," Burge said.
But earlier in the day, a line of questioning about two officers killed in the line of duty in 1982 suddenly had Burge in tears.
"This is an emotional topic for you," asked defense attorney Marc Miller.
"Very much so," said Burge, who wiped away tears with a tissue that U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow gave him.
Burge has pleaded not guilty to lying in a civil lawsuit when he denied seeing or participating in the torture of suspects.
His testimony follows that of five men who say Burge and officers under his command held plastic bags over their heads, shocked them and put loaded guns in their mouths during the 1970s and 1980s to elicit confessions to crimes ranging from robbery to murder.
The testimony of those men echoed what others have long said: Black men suspected of crimes didn't leave interrogation rooms at Chicago's Area 2 police station until they told detectives what they wanted to hear.
More than 100 victims have said the torture started in the 1970s and persisted until the 1990s at police stations on the city's South and West sides.
But Burge, who began his testimony by walking jurors through his lengthy police career and commendations from the police department and the U.S. Army, denied ever abusing anyone or seeing anyone else being mistreated.
As defense attorneys asked him whether he employed a range of alleged torture techniques described by witnesses — including attaching wires to men's genitals and running electric current through them — he repeatedly answered, "No, sir."
Burge will return to the witness stand Monday.
Associated Press writer Serena Dai contributed to this report.