The Black Hole of Chicago

The Guardian posted an extraordinary article revealing that the Chicago police maintained a “black site,” an off-the-books holding facility, where they took people who disappeared upon entering.

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.

This goes beyond shocking.  Sure, in some warped romantic spy-novel sort of way, we’ve come to expect such places for foreign terrorists to be tortured and held away from prying eyes, but not here, not on American soil, not in Chicago.

Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:

  • Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
  • Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
  • Shackling for prolonged periods.
  • Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
  • Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.

At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.

If so, this may be the most outrageous example of police misconduct ever.  And yet, the story emits an unpleasant odor.  The story says that Homan Square has “long been the scene of secretive work by special police units.”  Had this black site been in operation for a week, perhaps it would have evaded detection and review, but “long”?

And then the story says that “at least” one person died coming out of a secret interrogation room.  Dead bodies aren’t so easily ignored.  They smell bad, and the stench tends to fill a courtroom or a newspaper column to capacity.

How is it possible that this off-the-books facility existed for so long, and yet nobody, no lawyer, no judge, raised its existence, whether in a criminal proceeding following an illegal interrogation, or at arraignment when a beaten defendant appears with no cognizable explanation for the imprint of the Glock on his face?

What about a civil suit?  Where are the § 1983 actions for the deprivations of civil rights?  Even if the state courts were part of some conspiracy to keep this black site out of the courtroom, are the federal courts part of the conspiracy as well?  And what of the family of the “at least” one dead guy?  Didn’t they go to a lawyer to address this little detail, that their father or husband turned up dead?

For conspiracy theorists, this feeds right into the belief that the police are in control of the system, from top to bottom, and can do as they please.  See?  They had a black site in Chicago and no one knew anything about it, at least not until the Guardian exposed it.

Sorry, but this stretches credulity beyond the breaking point.  Aside from the fact that the people in government aren’t anywhere near smart and capable enough to keep something like this a secret for very long, there are about a million loose ends that would come back to bite the cops in the ass for even trying to maintain a black site.

The article offers no explanations for any of this.  It’s as if this is nothing to pull off, as if no one would raise this in court within hours of a defendant being taken out of the hole.  It’s as if random dead bodies following police seizures are no big deal, and no one, families of the deceased included, would think to take action because of it.

Is this possible?  I guess.  But it strikes me that this doesn’t pass the smell test, at least not without a great deal more information to explain how it could happen without anyone doing anything about it.  It’s easy to write that there is a black hole hidden in Homan Square, Chicago, but that doesn’t mean I have to jump blindly into it.  Without more, I’m not buying.

23 thoughts on “The Black Hole of Chicago

  1. Steve Magas

    I saw this story and had the same concerns, especially after reading where ” …Police at the site in Chicago reportedly carry heavy military gear, and huge armored tanks are parked outside…” Seems like that sort of thing would raise some eyebrows somewhere… I mean, ONE armored tank is one thing… but “huge armored tankS” doesn’t make much sense… maybe Chicagoans are just so used to the militarization of their city that a few more tanks around an old building isn’t an issue? I can’t imagine the Scott Greenfields of Chicago would not be filing motions left and right after learning from their clients that they were beaten senseless in some sort of secret detention facility?

    1. Not Jim Ardis

      I suspect that when they say “tanks” they mean those armored APCs and such that SWAT teams use, like were seen in Ferguson.

  2. DW

    You have to remember that A) CPD is the OG of corrupt PDs, and B)This is Chicago. Chicago is to “I can’t believe they did that for 30 years and got away with it” as Florida is to “What? No that can’t be right, that’s insane and disgusting”

      1. Not Jim Ardis

        And if someone is held without access to an attorney, and it is never recorded they were held there, how would an attorney ever know to file, especially if no charges against the detained are filed – where would be the wrong to be made right by a lawsuit, and what (besides the word of the citizen) would exist as proof that it ever happened?

        I agree that it doesn’t sound possible, but from what I know of the CPD I would be surprised if it ended up being true.

        1. SHG Post author

          When he gets out, he runs to his nearest lawyer. No big deal.

          If it was one person, it’s quite possible nothing would be known. But over a prolonged period of time, it’s just not plausible that no one ever knew or ever did anything whatsoever about it.

  3. inmd

    A friend sent me this story last evening. It’s important to be most critical when looking at stories that confirm ones own beliefs/biases. All that’s come out so far are unsubstantiated allegations. Doesn’t mean it can’t possibly be true but there’s a credibility burden the Guardian has yet to meet.

  4. Troutwaxer

    My guess – and this is just a guess – the facility exists but is normally only used as office/warehouse space. It was probably put into use as an overflow facility during a protest and that’s the end of the story. Not much more to say since nobody but the Guardian is carrying this story.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m disinclined to guess. Whatever it is, it is, but if they’re going to call it a black site, they need to do a lot better than this.

  5. Pingback: It's Probably More of a Dingy Gray... - Windypundit

  6. Lurker

    As far as I understand, the Guardian story presents the Homan Square facility as a place where the police conduct intelligence-gathering interrogations. The detainees spend there usually clearly less than a day.

    If the police are disciplined enough not to use the interrogations of the suspects held there incommunicado to pursue charges bit only use the information for further investigatioms, what is the remedy? By the time the defence lawyer has understood that the defendant is at Homan Square and written a brief for a habeas motion (in the original sense), the person is already free or officially arrested and booked at a regular jail. There is nothing to suppress and a civil rights suit for a short unauthorised arrest at a site the existence of which is difficult to prove is not going to succeed.

    The remedies you contemplate are only effective if:
    A) the interrogations are used as evidence or
    B) the detention at the site is prolonged.

  7. CT

    “[T]he stench tends to fill a courtroom or a newspaper column to capacity.”

    No, more like a single staff report:

    A 44-year-old man died Saturday afternoon while in police custody on the West Side, officials said.

    John Hubbard had been arrested on Saturday and was taken to a police building on the 3300 block of West Fillmore Street in the Homan Square neighborhood, said Chicago Police News Affairs Officer Daniel O’Brien.

    Officers later found Hubbard, of the 3500 block of South Rhodes Avenue in the Bronzeville neighborhood, unresponsive inside an interview room, O’Brien said.

    Hubbard was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1:25 p.m., the Cook County medical examiner’s office said.

    After a toxicology exam, the medical examiner’s office determined that Hubbard died of heroin intoxication and his death was ruled an accident, according to Frank Shuftan, a spokesman for the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

    It was not immediately clear where the man had been arrested or for what offense.

    [This story was updated on Feb. 24, 2015.]

    1. SHG Post author

      This report no more proves the point than does this example of bad logic: I can kill a man with a pencil. Need proof? Here’s the pencil.

      It proves Hubbard dies under the states circumstances. It proves nothing about Homan Square being a black site. It anything, the absence of any question raised about the death in an interrogation room in Homan Square suggests there is nothing suspicious about the location.

  8. CT

    The Guardian piece was released eleven days after this occurred:

    Disgraced former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge was released Friday from home confinement, ending his 4 1/2–year prison sentence for lying under oath about the torture of criminal suspects.

    Burge had been finishing off his federal sentence on home-monitoring since Oct. 2 after checking into a Florida halfway house that same day, said Ed Ross, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Before that, he had served his time in a low-security federal prison in North Carolina since 2011.

    Burge and detectives under his command were alleged to have tortured and abused more than a 100 suspects into falsely confessing to murder and other crimes in the 1970s and 1980s.

    While Burge was never criminally charged for the torture allegations, he was convicted in federal court in Chicago in 2010 on perjury and obstruction of justice charges for denying in a civil lawsuit that he knew of the abuse.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m aware of the Burge case. Not at all the same thing, but more importantly, does that mean every unproven allegation is true because Burge? Are they hiding space aliens at Homan Square because Burge? Illogical connections are easy. They just don’t mean much.

  9. James N.

    After stopping to think about the story, I just cannot imagine how it can be true. Even assuming a horrifically corrupt police department, and a terribly corrupt bunch of judges, if I get two or three clients babbling about a police-run torture camp over the course of a few years, and it’s at the same place, I might dismiss it as an urban legend–but maybe mention it over drinks sometime with another defense attorney, and if she heard the same rumors, it would come crashing down. And that’s just as a private practitioner with no institutional memory; a group like Legal Aid would hear a LOT of these stories.

    And once you suspect what’s going on, who’s going to sit on that information? Sure, maybe there’s an argument that by playing nice with the DA’s office on this, maybe they’ll play nice with you later. But I think the reverse is much more likely: beat their behinds with this so that they know not to mess with you at any subsequent trial, because you ain’t afraid of making a stink to high heaven. (And, being the first guy to nail this would be a huge reputation and career boost, even if it means the DA’s office has it out for you.)

    Then there’s the problem of the DA’s office itself. Assuming the lifers there are beyond hope, there are going to be a lot of young, idealistic attorneys passing through that office who, upon learning that there’s a police-run torture camp that the DA’s office isn’t doing anything about, quickly realize they don’t want to be ADA’s after all, and they squeal to the ethics board, or a reporter, or whoever. And even for the ones who want to stick it out, you’d have to keep scuttling otherwise strong cases to prevent this thing from coming to light in a courtroom, and that would really stick in one’s craw.

    Like, I can completely believe that cops torture; I can completely believe that a large minority of cops/ADA’s would cover that stuff up, but it simply cannot be happening at the scale alleged.

  10. BJC

    Upon re-reading the article after your comments, I think “black site” overstates the situation, but I can believe that something unkosher happens at Homan Square. However, “facility where cops can get a couple more hours of time with a suspect if he’s unrepresented or has a less savvy lawyer” doesn’t have the same impact as “black site.”

    I can’t remember if it was you or another CDL blogger who tweeted that the cops in his area sometimes arrest folks on Fridays and drive the arrestees around until after the courts close so the arrestees have to spend the weekend in jail. The allegations in the Guardian article, stripped of the “torture” and “black site” hysteria, read to me as being a practice in the same vein, that Homan Square is a place where the suspect can be transferred into procedural limbo for a little while until his attorney figures out where he is. The pictures in the article show an actual police building with police vehicles parked out front, and from the article itself it seems like at least some lawyers who show up there can actually meet with their clients.

    1. SHG Post author

      Remove the “black site” and “off-the-books” rhetoric, and it becomes more plausible. It’s also not nearly as good a story. As I said, I have no clue what it is. I just don’t buy the black site hysteria.

  11. David M.

    Transcript of a draft of a statement to be read to the media by Chicago Police Department Deputy First Superintendent Alfonsa Wysinger. Any errors of transcription are due to lacunae in the original, apparently caused by the word SHH in ALL-CAPS Wite-Out.

    We’re deluged with media barrages
    about some “black site”. All mirages!
    “Black Hole of Chicago”
    God, what a farrago.
    We go there for Swedish massages.

  12. MikeMike

    The death at Holman Square was addressed in brief piece in the Chicago Tribune,…[Ed. Note: Balance deleted.]

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