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Quinn gets his way over torture commission

Thursday, Sep 26, 2013

* Tribune

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.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

9 Comments
  1. - anon - Thursday, Sep 26, 13 @ 11:07 am:

    the guy never defends or protects any person or institution regardless of the circumstances. So I would ask his communications team to think about this question. If Governor Quinn never says anything unpopular why is he so unpopular?


  2. - Chavez-respecting Obamist - Thursday, Sep 26, 13 @ 11:46 am:

    If Quinn is so unpopular, why does he always get his way?

    I’m beginning to think it’s some kind of super-power.


  3. - Jamie - Thursday, Sep 26, 13 @ 12:01 pm:

    He should be gone. His mismanagement of the Commission, and the Commission’s blatant disregard for the law requiring victim involvement in the process is inexcusable and a real insult to family members of murder victims. Some say victims should have no voice in this exercise. That is a moot point since the law requires victim involvement. So, at best, the commission was ignorant of the the law. At worst, it blatantly ignored the law. I don’t hang that just on the former exec director, every commissioner owns that. Funny, isn’t it, that a commission that is ultimately seeking accountability from the police is apparently so self-important that it does not think it is also accountable to the law? Whoever the new exec director is, that person needs to be able to fill the massive void in leadership that has undermined the good work this commission it is supposed to be doing.


  4. - Anonymous - Thursday, Sep 26, 13 @ 12:14 pm:

    Perhaps an agency that had two staff members and was resource constricted from inception may not have had the bandwidth to voluntarily expand their charter to engage with victims’ families. If that’s the case, then this episode is a sad commentary on the Governor’s office ability to prioritize and secure minimal resources for agencies.


  5. - Anonymous - Thursday, Sep 26, 13 @ 2:39 pm:

    The commission focused on the core of their mission, and did what they could with the resources they had. This is Gov grandstanding.


  6. - reformer - Thursday, Sep 26, 13 @ 2:47 pm:

    So the two-person staff dropped the ball on 3 cases out of 100. Yeah, a 3% error rate is shockingly high for government. But it provides an excuse for demogoguery.


  7. - Demoralized - Thursday, Sep 26, 13 @ 3:03 pm:

    I think the law was dumb to begin with. I have still yet to hear any good explanation as to what a victim’s family would offer in an investigation on whether the police tortured a suspect.


  8. - MyTwoCents - Thursday, Sep 26, 13 @ 5:05 pm:

    Maybe I’ve missed this explanation someplace but I wonder why the State should be responsible for investigating people who were wrongfully imprisoned by the Chicago Police Department and prosecuted by the Cook County States Attorney? Shouldn’t the city and county be picking up the tab for that?


  9. - Think - Friday, Sep 27, 13 @ 7:34 am:

    This commission is nothing more than a, “dog and pony show”. The real question here is, Why was Burge not prosecuted for his actions years ago? Had the States Attorney, and the Illinois Attorney General followed the instructions and ruling of Judge Biebel and prosecuted Burge before the stature ran we would not be at this juncture. Also there are still CPD officers who are taking the Fifth to keep from testifying. Did the commission ask why CPD Lodge 7 raise tens of thousands of dollars to defend Burge?
    It does not matter who chairs or sits on this commission the outcome will be the same, COVER UP!!!!


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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