Chicago - Jul. 7, 2020
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American Dream Betrayed

Chicago Cops Still Secretly Detaining People

Public Defender Amy Campanelli announced Tuesday the filing of a lawsuit demanding the Chicago Police Department abide by state law to provide a phone - and phone number for her station house unit - to all arrested people within one hour of detainment.

The lawsuit follows mass arrests of mostly peaceful protestors in late May and early June following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minnesota police. During the protests, police made thousands of arrests, and attorneys say their attempts to reach their clients were repeatedly blocked. Isolation from counsel - a situation which enables false confessions - remains a longstanding issue in Cook County, despite being made more visible by the events of the past month.

The unwillingness of police in Cook County to provide reasonably timely station house representation - and the overwhelming access to justice issues that grow out of it - exists in the shadow of Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge.

Between 1972 and 1991, Burge tortured at least 119 people - most of them young Black men - in order to force false confessions. Cook County still lives in that legacy, leading the nation in exonerations based on false confessions. Between January 1989 and December 2013, 95 people were exonerated in Cook County. False confessions accounted for almost 40% of these wrongful convictions. False confessions disproportionately affect the most vulnerable arrestees, including children and people with special needs or mental illnesses. Denying access to counsel within a reasonable time - one hour, the lawsuit urges, rather than "as soon as is practicable" - increases the opportunity for and risk of false confessions.

The Public Defender has been collecting data on clients' access to phone calls since April 2020, finding 33% of 1,468 defendants surveyed recounted that police never offered them access to a phone. Those who were given access to a phone faced an average wait time of 4.2 hours after being taken into custody.

Quality station house representation is available in Cook County but it is not being utilized immediately following arrest. In 2017, Chicago Appleseed found that the Public Defender's Police Station Representation Unit and First Defense Legal Aid provide high-quality, consistent, and passionate representation for their clients, but that only about 1.3% to 1.4% of arrested people (644 out of 50,083 arrests) in Cook County actually requested and successfully received a station visit in 2017.

Clearly, the barriers to full representation of detained individuals in Cook County are represented in the Public Defender's data - barriers that are controlled almost entirely by the Chicago Police Department.

With this lawsuit, the court has the unique opportunity to ensure adequate access to counsel following arrest. A favorable opinion here would help to eliminate Cook County's false confession problem and would support the fundamental right of access to counsel.

Our state legislature is also well-positioned to address this unconscionable barrier to justice. Illinois House Bill 4796 (sponsored by Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago) amends the Code of Criminal Procedure (1963) to explicitly provide that every person in police custody has "the right to communicate free of charge with an attorney of their choice and family members as soon as possible, upon being taken into police custody, but no later than one hour after arrival at the first place of custody and before any questioning by law enforcement occurs."

Under this amended rule, detained individuals must be given access to a phone to make at least three calls; the ability to retrieve phone numbers contained in their cell phone; and, if the jurisdiction of custody has a station house representation unit, that telephone number must be prominently displayed.

The lawsuit includes a coalition of activists (including Black Lives Matter, #LetUsBreathe Collective, Stop Chicago, UMedics, and GoodKids MadCity) and attorneys, including Campanelli.

Kaitlyn Filip is a JD-PhD student in Communication Studies at Northwestern University. She is a Chicago Appleseed Fellow and the Director of Communications/Events of the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law chapter of the Collaboration for Justice. Her work has focused on access to justice domestically and internationally.

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Here's the press conference announcing the lawsuit.

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See also, from the Project On Government Oversight: Pretrial Detention In A Pandemic | Jurisdictions have failed to protect the pretrial rights of the accused. In a pandemic, those failures can be deadly.

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Comments welcome.

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1 From Steve Rhodes:

I realize Homan Square has been erased - at least by some - from our city's history, but this is exactly the dynamic that made it an off-the-books interrogation site. Just for example, see the real-time tweets from 2012 about the CPD "disappearing" detainees to Homan - three years before the Guardian blew the lid off the place.

Chicago media argued that Homan Square was not newsworthy in part because these violations occurred all over the city, not just at that one facility. Of course, Homan Square was unique as a site to secretly store detainees for questioning, but the fact that these violations were nonetheless commonplace strikes me as quite newsworthy, but what do I know.



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Posted on June 28, 2020


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