Michael Tillman

Burge Torture Victim Michael Tillman Receives $5.375 Million Settlement from City

Twenty-six years after his July 21, 1986 arrest, the Finance Committee of the Chicago City Council has approved the payment of a $5.375 million settlement to police torture victim Michael Tillman. During his four day interrogation, Tillman was repeatedly suffocated with a typewriter cover, beaten bloody with a telephone book, water boarded with 7 Up poured up his nose, threatened with a gun, and burned with a cigarette lighter by police detectives working for notorious Chicago police commander Jon Burge. As a result of this ordeal, Tillman confessed to crimes he did not commit and spent more than 23 years in prison.

For two decades after his conviction, Tillman repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, raised his claims of innocence. Finally, in 2009, lawyers from the People's Law Office and the Roderick Mac Arthur Justice Center moved to reopen his case. Armed with a "mountain" of evidence that implicated Burge and his detectives in a systemic pattern of torture, and a compelling case of innocence, the lawyers convinced the Special Prosecutor that Burge's confederates had tortured an innocent man into falsely admitting to crimes he did not commit. This concession led to dismissal of Tillman's case in January of 2010, and the issuance of a judicial certificate of innocence from the Chief Judge of the Cook County Criminal Courts shortly thereafter.

The city of Chicago began closely watching Tillman's case after District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled last year that Tillman's allegations against former Mayor Daley, detailed in the lawsuit his attorneys filed in 2010, were sufficient to hold Daley as a conspirator in a scheme to torture and cover-up. The settlement means Daley will not be deposed. However Tillman attorneys said Daley remains a central figure in the torture scandal and a potential witness in several unresolved torture cases.

Full press release (pdf)
Michael Tillman's statement (pdf)
Chicago Tribune story

Updated - 07/23/2012

Court Orders Release Of Innocent Burge Torture Victim From Prison

After enduring more than 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Michael Tillman, a victim of torture linked to indicted former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, was ordered released from an Illinois penitentiary Thursday.

Tillman was exonerated after Cook County Special Prosecutors Myles O'Rourke and Andrew Levine dismissed a 1986 murder charge against him in a hearing Thursday before Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan. It represents the first time in the sordid 35-year history of the Burge torture scandal that Cook County prosecutors acknowledged that a conviction was based on a false confession resulting from "a pattern and practice of abuse" inflicted by Burge and his underlings.

"We thank the special prosecutors for having the courage to recognize the same glaring reality that their predecessors chose to ignore: Michael Tillman was not only innocent of the crime for which he was accused, but he is also a victim of systemic crimes committed by police officers entrusted with upholding the law and the Constitution," said Flint Taylor of the People's Law Office, who together with his partners Ben Elson, Sarah Gelsomino and Joey Mogul, represents Tillman. Those detectives who tortured Michael into giving a false confession and spending more than half of his life behind bars must be brought to justice."

"We hope today is a turning point not only for Michael Tillman, but for the other men who languish in prison because they, too, were coerced by Burge and his henchmen into making fabricated confessions," said Locke E. Bowman, Legal Director of the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University which also represents Tillman, together with Amanda Metts of McDermott, Will and Emery. "We hope the Cook County criminal justice system will apply the wisdom these special prosecutors exhibited in Michael Tillman's case to the plight of these other wrongfully imprisoned men."

Following his arrest on July 21, 1986, Tillman underwent a marathon three-day interrogation administered by Burge's infamous "Midnight Crew" at Area 2 Police Headquarters. During this ordeal, Tillman was subjected to a crude form of waterboarding, suffocation with a plastic bag, beating with a telephone book and a mock execution at a remote site until he capitulated and submitted a false confession to the killing of Betty Howard.

Tillman was tortured under the supervision of Area 2 Police Sergeant John Byrne, Burge's chief henchman, and by several other notorious Area 2 Burge disciples, including detective Peter Dignan. The atrocities inflicted on Tillman were part of a three-decade spree of torture that Burge and his associates perpetrated against at least 110 African-American suspects from the early 1970s through the early 1990s. Burge was indicted late last year in connection with the torture allegations, while Byrne, Dignan and their associates remain under Federal investigation.

Updated - 01/15/2010