Posts tagged “Joan Lefkow

‘Bag Man’ a Symbol of Illinois Justice Run Amok

In a previous post, SF (Spingola Files) took a look at the “Punishers”—an alleged group of Milwaukee Police  Department (MPD) officers.  Citing an internal MPD report, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter John Diedrich strongly suggests that a rogue clique operated within the department’s ranks, even though Chief of Police Edward Flynn’s investigators consider the Punishers little more than an urban legend.

But 80 miles to Milwaukee’s south, an actual story of institutionalize police abuse has made headlines.

“Decades after young black men in Chicago first began claiming that a white policeman shocked, burned and suffocated them to get confessions,” the Associated Press reports, “ former officer Jon Burge is headed to federal prison.” 

As a Chicago Police Department commander, it is alleged that Burge used techniques that would make a seasoned Gitmo interrogator blush. 

The system, however, failed to charge Burge with criminal charges for torturing arrestees in the 1970s and 1980s.  Instead, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald charged Burge with two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury for providing false testimony in a civil lawsuit.  The plaintiff in the civil case, Madison Hobley, was convicted of starting a 1987 fire that caused the deaths of seven people, including Hobley’s wife and son.  

In court papers, Hobley contends that his interrogators—Chicago police detectives—attempted to suffocate him by placing a plastic cover over his head.  In the vernacular of its users, this highly illegal enhanced interrogation technique was apparently referred to as “bagging.” 

During testimony in the civil case, Burge denied any knowledge of prisoner abuse and claimed he never participated in such activities. The federal indictment charged Burge with lying about the torture that took place under his watch. 

Burge was subsequently convicted and, last week, sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.  U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s sentence was almost twice the time the recommend federal guidelines called for.  Lefkow then ripped the Chicago police hierarchy, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office and federal investigators at the time for failing to halt Burge’s bag men.

But prior to sentencing, Burge received support from former subordinates, some of whom claimed the former commander—drummed-off the police force in 1993—was a cop’s, cop who sought justice for victims of horrific crimes.

The harsh reality of institutionalized cases of police abuse, such as those sanctioned by Burge et al, serve only to discredit the police service, where detectives work long hours under difficult conditions to obtain the evidence lawfully needed to obtain criminal convictions.  The current practice of video taping confessions for serious crimes is a product of allegations of prisoner abuse.

Former Illinois governor George Ryan, who now, ironically, also calls federal prison home, took Burge’s conduct into consideration when he placed a moratorium on that state’s death penalty.

No doubt, the unjust murder convictions of Gary Gauger in McHenry County and the recent arrest of innocent off-duty police officer Brian Dorian in Will County for the ‘honeybee shootings’ paint a portrait of an Illinois criminal justice that is increasingly dysfunctional and in need of a top-down review.  Our neighbors to the south might want to use Burge’s sentence and Judge Lefkow’s harsh words a catalyst to overhall that state’s system of injustice.


Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders

If your organization is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files presentation The Psychology of Homicide.  For more information, visit

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011