Some Chicago police officers in early January 2009 denounced their own union’s efforts to fund former police Commander Jon Burge’s legal defense.
In December 2008, the Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union board voted to fund the 60-year-old Burge’s defense on federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges for which he was indicted in October 2008.
Burge is charged for allegedly lying in federal court testimony about torturing many Black suspects in his custody during the 1980s and 1990s. Burge was never criminally charged for the torture allegedly committed by him and other cops under his authority. At the press conference, officer Joe Shaw said he spoke on behalf of “a lot” of Chicago police officers against the FOP paying for Burge’s legal fees. Shaw appeared Jan. 7 with two attorneys at the downtown Dirksen Federal Building after arguing in court against the FOP’s funding of Burge’s defense.
Shaw declared that FOP President Mark Donahue’s decision to assist in funding Burge’s corruption trial was “dividing the membership, jeopardizing officers’ lives and destroying police and community relations.” He demanded that Donahue step down from his position immediately. “This is a high profile case, and we don’t want that type of indication going out to the community. We stand in lock-step with the community because we have this incident here. We do not support torture. We do not condone torture. We do not embrace torture. We will never support that type of behavior on the department,” said Shaw.
Shaw said the FOP cannot afford to pay for Burge’s fees, noting that the police organization has a little over $5.5 million in their legal defense fund. “According to the city,” Shaw said, “when they paid for his legal defense, it was in the upwards of $5 million and half to $6 million. If that’s any type of indicator, [Burge] will bankrupt our fund by himself. Not only to mention, it will open the door to his other cohorts who are responsible, that have not been charged at this point in time, to come forward and say, ‘We demand that our legal fees to be paid for as well.’ “My only concern is the concern of the men and women who serve this city every day that’s working right now. We should not waste our fund on him,” declared Shaw.
Shaw added that the FOP membership dues have gone up to support of Burge and the other officers.
Brendan Shiller and Chris C. Cooper, two civil rights attorneys representing Shaw and another police office in the case against the FOP funding of Burge’s defense, sought a temporary restraining order ordering the FOP to stop paying the legal fees for Burge. Cooper said during the press conference that the big issue here is “Burge’s legal fees are being paid for actions that: One, were not within the scope of employment of a Chicago police officer and certainly did not occur at a time when Jon Burge was a Chicago police officer.” Cooper added that police officers who pay their dues to the FOP should expect that the lodge will have the money to defend them against “spurious claims” made against them by citizens and not spend money on ex-police officers like Burge. “The good police officers in the City of Chicago deserve legal representation, and they do not deserve to be in a situation where the [FOP] is out of money because it’s paying for the fees of Jon Burge who isn’t even a police officer,” Cooper said.
Cooper said the court case had been continued for the next day because neither Donahue nor anyone else from FOP showed up for court. “The Fraternal Order of Police did not show up this morning in court. Judge Anderson did contact one of the [FOP] attorneys, and it has been agreed that this matter is continued until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning,” Cooper said.
Shaw, who is a police officer of the elite Organized Crime and Narcotics Division located at the Homan and Filmore police district, also said, “It was an outlandish act on behalf of the FOP not to show up in court today. “It’s a total lack of responsibility, just another one of their ineffective services as being a leader in the department,” he said.
Fraternal Order of Police Response on Funding Burge Trial
FOP President Mark Donahue explained during a phone interview why he was a no show in court in Shaw’s case. “You can tell Officer Shaw that the attorney in this case failed to serve notice for the FOP to be in court this morning. That’s why the FOP wasn’t there. We didn’t know anything about it. Their attorney screwed up,” Donahue declared.
A clause in the FOP Legal Defense Program handbook states that it will fund active members of the police force: “For any incident, arising from the performance of a police function which occurs while the officer is on or off duty, the FOP Legal Defense Committee (LDC) will provide legal coverage and representation, including referral to an attorney approved by the FOP and payment for attorney’s fees and costs, for administration or judicial proceedings, including criminal proceedings.” But Burge is not a current police officer. He was fired in 1993 from the Chicago police force, though he is still drawing a pension.
Donahue told RJ that he wouldn’t explain why the union was funding Burge’s defense. “I haven’t made any comments to any other press outlet,” he said, referring RJ to a statement on the FOP’s web site.
In the online press release by Donahue dated December 5, 2008, he wrote that although “the Lodge by no means condones the actions that have been alleged in this latest round of charges brought against Jon Burge,” the FOP Board of Directors would provide legal defense for Burge, who is a member. Donahue also called the charges against Burge a “fiasco” by Chicago’s “Corporation Counsel’s Office.”
Donahue blamed “attorneys and civic and political leaders” for “fueling the media with stories that have caused Jon Burge to be the ‘poster child’ of alleged police torture in this City for an entire generation. “This same legal and political pressure is now the impetus for alleging perjury in statements made five years ago, by a 60-year-old man, about incidents alleged to have occurred more than 25 years ago – and it’s not fair. “This fiasco only lowers the morale in this Department which is at its lowest levels in my 32-year career. The bottom line here is that with the absence of solid evidence to convict on allegations of wrongdoing for the past 30 years, all that is left are the words of these convicted criminals and their spokespeople against the word of a Police Officer – and the FOP will stand with the Police Officer every time,” Donahue declared in his press release.
Tags: Chicago Police Department, Fraternal Order of the Police, lawsuits, police funding, spring 2009 issue, Torture
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