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Homan Square: inquiry into Chicago police 'should also cover facility'
Justice Department pressured to expand civil rights investigation as Rahm Emanuel’s challenger calls secret detention warehouse’s inclusion ‘crucial’
Thursday, January 14, 2016 The Guardian by Zach Stafford
A major investigation into Chicago police should be extended to cover the detention warehouse Homan Square, a police interrogation facility exposed by the Guardian, a group of politicians have said.
The Cook County board of commissioners, which oversees the second largest county in the US including the entirety of Chicago, approved a measure on Wednesday calling for the DoJ to expand its landmark investigation into the city’s police department “to look into allegations of civil and human rights violations” at Homan Square.
That inquiry from the nation’s top law enforcement agency came after video footage of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot in the back by a Chicago police officer led to the forced resignation of the city’s police chief, and a wider look by the justice department’s civil-rights division which has only put more pressure on Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to step down after police misconduct on his watch.
“In order to begin to restore faith in our criminal justice system, it is crucial that the DoJ investigate these allegations and include Homan Square in its pattern and practices investigation,” said Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the county commissioner who nearly defeated Emanuel in a runoff election last year that turned on police reforms Barack Obama’s former chief-of-staff has encouraged only since protests in late November over McDonald’s death.
As Chicago’s police take the national spotlight from Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri, which were subject to similar DoJ inquiries into race-based policing and use of force, Cook County officials said the scale of Washington’s investigation “provides us with an ideal opportunity” to bring to light more of the city’s law-enforcement abuses.
“Any federal investigation of the Chicago police department that does not include Homan Square will be incomplete and woefully inadequate,” said commissioner Richard J Boykin.
At Boykin’s latest of several hearings on the warehouse, an activist and two attorneys who have worked with suspects detained for prolonged periods at Homan Square argued that the city’s notoriously brutal police force had become too protected by city hall for such allegations to be held up to official scrutiny from within the city.
“The only means by which we can establish concrete facts and hold responsible parties to account is by impartial review,” said activist Jonathan Terrasi, “because reporting has shown that misconduct from CPD officers and units working out of Homan Square is both a pattern and a practice.”
The board’s resolution, which cites “allegations of torture, denial of counsel and off-the-books detentions [that] raise serious questions of human and constitutional rights violations”, is non-binding. But the last-minute support from multiple politicians – including Garcia, who told the Guardian he found such allegations “disturbing” – is significant from the county commissioners who have longed proved a thorn in Emanuel’s side.
While the facility was not included in the DoJ’s initial investigation, “we always reserve the right to expand it”, said Lynch.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the agency had yet to receive the resolution or reconsidered the scope of its inquiry.
But activists, continuing to protest about Homan Square amid their calls for Emanuel to resign, are hoping for more than extra oversight by the US government: they want the warehouse shut down.
“We have been consistently campaigning for the closing of Homan Square ever since we found out about it,” Frank Chapman, field organizer of Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression’s Stop Police Crimes project, said after McCarthy’s firing. “We wouldn’t have found out about it if it wasn’t for the Guardian because no Chicago newspaper whispered a word about it.”
Charlene Carruthers, an organizer with the activist group Black Youth Project 100, said she believed the Guardian’s reporting on Homan Square had directly resulted in the police chief’s resignation but, with a series of policing scandals swarming Chicago, that the mayor should be next.
“They lead a city where it’s very clear the police yield abusive power over people, and they’re complicit in it,” Carruthers said of the Emanuel administration last month. “It includes Laquan McDonald, and it goes far, far, far beyond what happened to Laquan.”