CHICAGO - A decorated former police officer whose name has become synonymous with police brutality in the city was sentenced Friday to 4½ years in federal prison for lying about the torture of suspects.
Dozens of suspects almost all of them black men have claimed for decades that Jon Burge and his officers electrically shocked, suffocated and beat them into confessing to crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder. After the hearing, several victims and their supporters said the sentence wasn't nearly stiff enough.
"It's outrageous," said Mark Clements, who claims Burge's officers tortured him into giving a false confession in 1981 when he was 16. Tears ran down his faced and his voice rose in anger. "It's not justice."
Standing nearby, community activist Fred Hampton Jr. echoed the outrage, saying the white officer's sentence was disproportionately low compared to what others receive for lesser crimes.
"People in our community get more time than this for fist fights," said Hampton, whose father was a Black Panther leader killed by police before the Burge era.
Flint Taylor, an attorney who has represented several police torture victims, predicted the sentence would become an issue the Chicago mayor's race. A host of candidates, including former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, are vying to replace retiring Mayor Richard Daley.
"The new mayor will have to apologize to these victims of torture," Taylor said.
But others were satisfied with the verdict, including U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, whose office prosecuted Burge.
"Justice delayed isn't justice completely denied," Fitzgerald said.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow said the sentence reflected the seriousness of the allegations and, in making her decision, she wondered why a respected officer so admired by his department would resort to such violence.
"My best guess is ambition," Lefkow said. "Perhaps the praise, the publicity and the commendations ... were seductive and led you down this path."
Burge was charged with lying when he testified in a civil lawsuit brought by Madison Hobley, who was sentenced to death for a 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his wife and son. Hobley was later pardoned.
Hobley claimed detectives put a plastic typewriter cover over his head to make it impossible for him to breathe. Burge denied knowing anything about the "bagging" or taking part in it. The indictment against Burge never said Hobley was tortured but accused Burge of lying about participating in or knowing about torture that took place under his watch. Burge has never faced criminal charges for abuse.
While the former police commander denied during his five-week trial that torture took place, Lefkow noted the jury hadn't believed him and neither had she. In considering a sentence, Lefkow told Burge she took into account his "unwillingness to acknowledge the truth in the face of all the evidence."
Burge stood facing Lefkow as she read a statement and the sentence. Her offer to let him sit given his poor heath drew groans of protest from the victims and courtroom observers, who otherwise sat rapt as the judge spoke. As Lefkow talked about victims' testimony that she'd found particularly moving, Burge's sister-in-law left the courtroom.
Earlier Friday, Burge told the judge he knew his case brought the police department into disrepute and "for that, I am deeply sorry." He insisted he wasn't the person who's been "vilified" by the media but didn't specifically address the allegations of torture and abuse.
"I'm 63 years old, and while I try to keep a proud face, in reality, I am a broken man," he then said, his voice falling and seeming to break with emotion.
After Lefkow handed down the sentence, defense attorney Richard Beuke said his client, who was fired in 1993 for mistreating a suspect, didn't mean to express remorse or suggest he did anything wrong in his statement. Bueke blamed what he called cop killers, murderers and rapists for the allegations that dogged Burge for years.
"I don't think a day in jail for Jon Burge is just." The attorney said.
Burge does not have to report for prison until March 16. He did not speak to reporters after the hearing and was taken out an entrance not accessible to reporters or the general public for security reasons, Bueke said.