Chicago Police Department

Jon Burge, Chicago's Most Famous Corrupt Cop, Is Dead at 70

Credibly accused, but never actually convicted, of torturing dozens of people to force confessions


Jon Burge
Jose M. Osorio/TNS/Newscom

Jon Burge, the former Chicago Police commander synonymous with the city's history of police brutality and excessive force, died Wednesday at age 70.

If you need to know exactly why Chicago's law enforcement environment is such a disaster, just google Burge's name. The disgraced cop even has his own Wikipedia entry documenting allegations of his abuse and torture across two decades of more than 200 people, mostly black men, in order to secure confessions.

He and his detectives have been accused of beating, suffocating, burning, and even using cattle prods and full on electrotorture to force suspects to confess. Here's a description of how Burge chose to behave as a cop from the Washington Post:

Whenever Chicago Police commander Jon Burge needed a confession, he would walk into the interrogation room and set down a little black box, his alleged victims would later tell prosecutors. The box had two wires and a crank. Burge, they alleged, would attach one wire to the suspect's handcuffed ankles and the other to his manacled hands. Then, they said, Burge would place a plastic bag over the suspect's head. Finally, he would crank his little black box and listen to the screams of pain as electricity coursed through the suspect's body.

"When he hit me with the voltage, that's when I started gritting, crying, hollering. … It [felt] like a thousand needles going through my body," Anthony Holmes told prosecutors during a 2006 investigation into Burge. "And then after that, it just [felt] like, you know—it [felt] like something just burning me from the inside, and, um, I shook, I gritted, I hollered, then I passed out."

Burge did this to get Holmes to confess to a murder (it worked). Despite all the horrifying stories, many of which were proven to be credibly true, Burge was never actually convicted for torture. He was fired from the Chicago Police Department in 1993, after authorities determined that he had tortured a suspect accused of killing two police officers, but the statute of limitations precluded charges. He was instead convicted of perjury for lying under oath in a civil case. He served more than four years in federal prison, but was still allowed to collect a $4,000-a-month taxpayer-supported pension while retired in Florida.

Meanwhile, Chicago has shelled out more than $500 million paying off claims of police misconduct over the past 15 years and has created a special $5.5 million fund specifically for paying off Burge's victims. The city has spent more than $100 million on settlements specifically on Burge-related allegations.

But if you're looking for some introspection from police union representatives, forget it. Dean Angelo, the former head of Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police, says we're getting Burge all wrong, and the union posted condolences on Facebook and said Burge's "full story" has never been told. From the Chicago Tribune:

"Jon Burge put a lot of bad guys in prison that belonged … in prison," Angelo said in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building. "People picked a career apart that was considered for a long time to be an honorable career and a very effective career. I don't know that Jon Burge got a fair shake based on the years and years of service that he gave the city. But we'll have to wait and see how that eventually plays out in history."

The grotesque punchline here is that Angelo was at the courthouse to attend the trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, charged with murder for shooting Laquan McDonald in 2015, pumping 16 bullets into the 17-year-old's body almost immediately upon arriving on location.

Chicago citizens were outraged with how the city handled it, concealing body camera footage showing that the official police story—that McDonald lunged at them with a knife—was a lie. A judge had to order the city to release the footage. There were five police cars on the scene, but only two had operating dash cams and none had sound. There's subsequently been evidence showing that police officers in Chicago have been deliberately sabotaging their recording devices.

McDonald's family has been paid $5 million from Chicago over the teen's death. To put it bluntly, history is already evaluating what to make of the behavior of officers like Burge, and the documentation is in the form of court settlements and mass exonerations.