The following occurred in Chicago, Illinois, USA and not some Communist dictatorship or theocratic backwater.
A secret interrogation site is being used by the Chicago police to hold suspects for up to a day or more without access to an attorney or being read their Miranda rights.
The facility is “off the books” — no one will acknowledge its existence despite the fact that Chicago criminal defense attorneys are very familiar with the site. Suspects are temporarily “disappeared” from police precincts and re-appear to be booked hours later.
The site is apparently used by special police task forces — anti-terror, anti-gang, anti-drug units.
The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.
Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:
Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
Shackling for prolonged periods.
Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.
At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.
“If police “want money, guns, drugs”, or information on the flow of any of them onto Chicago’s streets, “they bring them there and use it as a place of interrogation off the books,” said one attorney.
The site also serves as a safe house where police informants can meet their handlers in a secure location. It also serves as an evidence locker and is a storage site for military-grade vehicles.
But secret interrogation sites have been a dark part of Chicago police history for at least 50 years.
“Back when I first started working on torture cases and started representing criminal defendants in the early 1970s, my clients often told me they’d been taken from one police station to another before ending up at Area 2 where they were tortured,” said Taylor, the civil-rights lawyer most associated with pursuing the notoriously abusive Area 2 police commander Jon Burge. “And in that way the police prevent their family and lawyers from seeing them until they could coerce, through torture or other means, confessions from them.”
Police often have off-site facilities to have private conversations with their informants. But a retired Washington DC homicide detective, James Trainum, could not think of another circumstance nationwide where police held people incommunicado for extended periods.
“I’ve never known any kind of organized, secret place where they go and just hold somebody before booking for hours and hours and hours. That scares the hell out of me that that even exists or might exist,” said Trainum, who now studies national policing issues, to include interrogations, for the Innocence Project and the Constitution Project.
Regardless of departmental regulations, police frequently deny or elide access to lawyers even at regular police precincts, said Solowiej of First Defense Legal Aid. But she said the outright denial was exacerbated at Chicago’s secretive interrogation and holding facility: “It’s very, very rare for anyone to experience their constitutional rights in Chicago police custody, and even more so at Homan Square,” Solowiej said.
There have been several previous torture scandals involving the Chicago police — organized groups of thugs who beat suspects and coerced confessions. This is, if possible, even worse. The lack of accountability and transparency as well as the routine application of physical abuse eats at the trust police need to effectively fight crime in the community.
In short, the police are only making their jobs harder by running a site like this.