There's a Report that Chicago Police Were Operating the Equivalent of a CIA Black Site

February 28th 2015

Tucked on Chicago’s West Side sits a warehouse that allegedly houses what some lawyers call the Chicago police equivalent of an offshore CIA black site––the secret government locations where “enhanced interrogation techniques” occur, such as those featured prominently in the Senate’s recent torture report.

Like the now-notorious offshore black sites, detainees in Chicago are reportedly denied the basic tenants of the U.S. criminal justice system, including the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent, and they languish in a legal limbo.

The facility, known as Homan Square, is the subject of recent investigation by The Guardian newspaper, and it comes as the latest in a string of exposés on the broader issue of Chicago police abuses.

According to the report, police practices at Homan Square involved keeping arrestees out of booking databases, beatings, prolonged shackling, denying attorneys access to the facility, and holding people as young as 15 without legal counsel up to 24 hours. Brian Jacob Church, a protester who spoke to The Guardian about his time at Holman Square said that the facility “brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site,” he said. “When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”

Since the The Guardian's exposé, another Homan detainee has come forward, describing her time there as a "kidnap[ped]" "hostage," and one politician described "'Gestapo tactics" used there. Two other detainees spoke out to The Intercept's Juan Thompson on Thursday.

In response to the story, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) released a statement:

"CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility. If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them....There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square."

The facility, which was previously virtually unheard of, acts as a sort of off-the-grid halfway point between arrest and formal booking procedures––a period during which a detainee’s right to legal counsel and other constitutional guarantees can be crucial. A Chicago attorney quoted in the piece said that when lawyers or family cannot find a person in the system, that person is generally believed to be at Homan––what she called an “open secret” with attorneys there.

A variety of specialized police units, including terrorism units, anti-drug, and anti-gang forces, allegedly use the facility to obtain information using controversial interrogation methods in an “off the books” setting.

In the best cases, detainees could be subject to long periods of being cuffed––both hands and feet––to narrow benches, making sleep difficult. In the worst, death, as was John Hubbard’s fate when he was found “unresponsive inside an interview room,” in 2013. It’s unclear how Hubbard died and also when and why he was in police custody.

Although Homan Square is said to have been in use since the early 1990s, it appears to be in direct conflict with numerous departmental directives barring pre-booking investigation or interrogation and asserting the right to phone calls and access to an attorney.

A Chicago civil rights attorney told The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman that Homan represented an institutionalized brick-and-mortar iteration of the practice of “violating a suspect or witness’ rights to a lawyer and not to be physically or otherwise coerced into giving a statement” and a throwback to the worst abuses of Chicago police from decades past.

But Homan Square could very well signal a new era of dubious policing in Chicago, one that embraces and embodies what many fear to be the militarization of local police forces, replete with the equipment and tactics to match. Church, the protester who spent nearly a day in Homan shackled for hours and who eventually spoke to a lawyer through a floor-to-ceiling chain link fence there, also noted that military-style vehicles were parked on the premises resembling “very large MRAPs that they use in the Middle East.” Cook County, which encompasses Chicago, has received around 1,700 pieces of military-grade equipment through the Pentagon’s controversial surplus distribution 1033 program.

"Everything that was described [in the Guardian story] was something that happens every day," Chicago attorney Richard Dvorak told the Chicago Tribune. "I think it's pretty systemic throughout CPD."

At press time, the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel are under mounting pressure from numerous politicians, litigators, and civil rights groups to investigate the allegations that have emerged this week in the Guardian newspaper.

Share your opinion

Should police be allowed to have "black sites" around their cities?

Yes 7%No 93%