The director of a state commission vetting allegations of police torture is stepping down amid controversy after some victims’ families complained the panel violated Illinois law by excluding them from the process.
David Thomas, who has chaired the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission since 2011, told members at the commission’s public meeting at the Thompson Center on Wednesday that he is retiring as of the end of the month.
The move came less than two weeks after Gov. Pat Quinn revealed that he had asked Thomas to resign because of a failure to notify victims’ families about the board’s decisions in violation of the 2009 statute establishing the commission.
* The Sun-Times editorial board was indignant about Quinn’s behavior throughout the entire process…
The commission’s job is to root out any remaining cases in which innocent men are languishing in prison because of statements extracted through police torture in the 1970s and ’80s by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his so-called Area 2 midnight crew. More than 100 men have claimed they were tortured, and so far the commission has made recommendations in about 25 cases, either rejecting them or forwarding them for further judicial review.
But in three cases, the commission’s staff — which consisted of the executive director and a secretary — neglected to notify relatives of victims about the hearings, as the law requires. It was clearly an oversight by an overworked staff and the commission has rectified it by pulling back the cases so that family members may testify. But relatives of victims in one of the cases, the 1983 home invasion, rape and murder of Dean and JoEllen Pueschel and the beating of their son, understandably remain angry that they weren’t notified. […]
After the Legislature authorized the creation of the commission in 2009, it sat dormant for about a year until Quinn finally appointed commissioners.
When the commissioners finally had a quorum, they appointed Thomas executive director, but it took four months for his appointment to get through a lumbering state hiring process. It took two more months to hire a secretary. Then the commission had to devote several months to the complicated state-required process of setting up rules and regulations.
In August 2011, the commission finally was able to begin reviewing claims, but in June 2012, the Legislature stripped all its funding, and work stopped. Funding finally was restored in late March, and the commission was pulled out of mothballs. Now, it’s facing another delay.
The commission’s job is not to decide guilt or innocence, but only to determine which cases contain credible claims of police torture. Those cases are referred to Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, who assigns them to judges for further review. Those judges may decide that the torture claims, while credible, are not sufficient to justify an evidentiary hearing. But even those cases that proceed to a hearing won’t necessarily get a new trial, and any new trials won’t necessarily lead to acquittals. And given other strong evidence, the Pueschel case is not a likely candidate for a reversal.
* But Chuck Goudie has portrayed the governor as a hero throughout…
The head of the Illinois torture commission resigned Wednesday after an I-Team report revealed shoddy treatment of the family of a murder victim. Illinois is the only state in the nation with a torture board.
Officially named the Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, appointees of the governor look at a narrow spectrum of murder cases tinged by police brutality and determine whether to recommend the cases be re-examined in court. Late Wednesday afternoon, the embattled executive director of the commission, Dave Thomas, turned in his resignation. Nearly two weeks after the I-Team broke the story that Governor Quinn wanted Thomas out. […]
Thomas is resigning with Governor Pat Quinn’s foot on his behind. As paid director of the commission that reviews cases of police torture, Mr. Thomas had become the focus of angry, emotional complaints from the relatives of murder victims.