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CHICAGO — An imprisoned former Chicago police commander accused of overseeing the torture of suspects will keep his $3,000-a-month pension following a ruling today by the Illinois Supreme Court.
The justices ruled 4-3 that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan cannot challenge a police pension board vote preserving the payments to former police lieutenant Jon Burge. The court said approving the challenge would be a “fundamental change” in the state’s pension code.
Burge, perhaps the Chicago police force’s most infamous officer, is serving a 4½ year sentence in federal prison after being convicted of perjury in connection with testimony he gave in a civil case involving torture allegations.
The torture scandal, perpetrated by a group of Chicago officers mainly against black suspects for crimes they did not commit, has dogged the city for decades. It also has cost the city more than $100 million to settle lawsuits and provide legal counsel for Burge and the other officers who have been implicated in the scandal, and millions more in pension payments over the years.
A pension board had voted on a motion to terminate Burge’s pension in January 2011, but it failed by a 4-4 vote. It needed five votes to pass.
Madigan then filed a lawsuit, saying the pension board shouldn’t have let Burge keep his pension given his conviction. But Burge supporters say the conviction involved testimony he gave after he retired, not while he was on duty.
More than 100 men have accused Burge and the officers under his command of shocking, suffocating and beating them into giving confessions during the 1970s and 1980s. The decorated former commander has never been criminally charged with abuse.
Burge has been receiving his pension since about four years after he was fired from the police department in 1993 over the mistreatment of a suspect.
Madigan’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the ruling. A big question is whether Madigan appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Flint Taylor, an attorney who has represented more than a dozen men who alleged they were tortured by Burge’s detectives, said the odds “are very slim” that Burge will ever stop receiving his pension. If Madigan does appeal, he said, the court hears about 1 percent of the appeals it receives and even if it did, it could still rule against Madigan.
“There is something very wrong about this picture,” he said. “It is very disturbing.”