I was struck with multiple blows’: inside the secret violence of Homan Square
Documents disclosed in Guardian lawsuit reveal for first time how Chicago police used punches, baton blows and Tasers at the off-the-books interrogation site
Internal documents from the Chicago police department show that officers used physical force on at least 14 men already in custody at the warehouse known as Homan Square.
Police used punches, knee strikes, elbow strikes, slaps, wrist twists, baton blows and Tasers at Homan Square, according to documents released to the Guardian in the course of its transparency lawsuit about the warehouse. The new information contradicts an official denial about treatment of prisoners at the facility.
The injured men are among at least 7,351 people – more than 6,000 of them black – who, police documents show, have been detained and interrogated at Homan Square without a public notice of their whereabouts or access to an attorney.
None of the men identified in these newest documents had fled custody or were injured in the course of a lawful arrest. All were subject to force by Chicago police officers after they were already in custody at Homan Square. According to depositions with officers and more than two dozen first-hand accounts, handcuffing is standard. Police applied force to some arrestees sufficient enough to warrant hospitalization.
Some of those injured by police inside Homan Square told the Guardian they had experienced chronic pain or impairment years later. One said he was instructed by police to lie about his strangulation, which police claimed on an official form resulted from the already handcuffed man “manag[ing] to put another flex cuff around his neck”.
The Chicago police department, now under federal investigation after suppressing video evidence of its lethal shooting of 17-year old Laquan MacDonald, last year took exception to the Guardian’s reporting about the Homan Square warehouse.
While the department conceded that it uses the warehouse headquarters for the organized-crime bureau as a site for conducting “interviews”, it “unequivocally” denied using violence on detained men and women.
“The allegation that physical violence is a part of interviews with suspects is unequivocally false, it is offensive, and it is not supported by any facts whatsoever,” the CPD insisted on 1 March 2015.
Yet facts supporting the claim for at least 14 men were contained in police files at Homan Square itself. They were released after the Guardian sued under Illinois’ freedom of information law for extensive documentation about the detentions and interrogation practices of the warehouse.
Documents released to the Guardian include the account of a man who died in police custody under questionable circumstances. His family and friends, supported by an independent autopsy that materially differs from the one Cook County performed, believe the police killed him and covered it up. The Guardian will tell his story tomorrow.
The documents include hospitalization records and a standard form documenting the use of physical force called a Tactical Response Report. The form includes a follow-up review conducted by a superior officer. In all cases obtained by the Guardian, the reviews found the use of force to be justified, even when the officers did not interview the victims.
One case described in the documents reveals that a man was Tasered in Homan Square and had to be treated at Mount Sinai hospital.
According to two Tactical Response Reports, the man represented an “imminent threat of battery” and performed an “attack without weapon”. Police listed that attack as “swinging arms” and “kicking legs”. One of the forms details that police “restrained the offender legs”.
A lieutenant who reviewed the case “concluded that the member’s actions were in compliance with department procedures and directives”.
One week later, police hit another prisoner who was listed as an “assailant” launching an “attack without weapon”, namely “spitting blood”. His subsequent hospitalization was described as “for injury that occurred at the Homan Square police facility and not as a result” of his actual arrest. A reviewing officer wrote that the “arrestee stated he was not fighting with arresting officer. Arrestee stated he did not assault anyone.”
Another Homan arrestee who “had to be carried and again spit on and struck and kicked officers” was punched, “placed in an armbar” hold, and subjected to a “take down/emergency handcuffing”, a procedure to force someone to the floor.
A fourth man, arrested for marijuana possession, was punched in custody at Homan Square, to the point where the officer conceded on the form that the man was injured. It was said he “grabbed the officer’s leg”.
A fifth man, taken to Homan Square on 4 July 2014, was struck in the knee after he “flail[ed] arms and body”, according to the documents. An interview with the review officer recorded the man saying “he was tired of the streets and started crying … he was tired of letting his family down and he was selling drugs because he was homeless. Subject stated he was sorry for resisting the Officer and is just tired of jail.” The review officer concluded the knee strike was “in compliance with department procedures and directives”.
In a statement to the Guardian, the Chicago police department said: “The Chicago Police Department takes allegations of excessive force very seriously. In Chicago, all use-of-force cases require extensive documentation using the tactical response report. These cases are then vigorously investigated by an external, civilian-led agency known as the Chicago Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA). We stand behind our initial statement and our unwavering commitment to the highest levels of accountability and professional standards for our officers.”
Other incidents described in the newly released documents raise questions about the veracity of the police accounts.
On 27 December 2001, Mark Rideaux, then 40 years old, took “someone from the block to pick up some drugs”, he remembers. Unbeknownst to Rideaux, an undercover officer was standing in line to buy drugs, and on his way back, police stopped the car he was driving. It was stolen. Police took him to Homan Square.
Rideaux was secured by his left wrist to the wall of a second-floor cell. What Rideaux said happened next directly contradicts a highly unusual account that police at Homan Square placed on an official report.
According to the hospitalization case report, disclosed to the Guardian as part of its lawsuit, a desk officer “heard a scream” coming from the cell and found Rideaux “unconscious” from a “self-inflicted” injury.
“While in custody, victim, having one hand (left) cuffed to wall with a flex cuff, managed to put another flex cuff around his neck,” an unspecified officer’s report states. Police cut off the cuff and sent him to Mount Sinai hospital for treatment.
Rideaux tells a far different story.
In his Homan Square cell, an officer aggressively questioned him about guns and drugs until things got “out of hand”, he remembered.
“I did not recall what I said that made him so up-set, but thats when he [put] the Flex-Cuff around my neck,” Rideaux wrote to the Guardian from prison, where he is serving a narcotics sentence.
“All I remember is waking up on the floor of the cell. and them saying that I try to kill myself. I was taken to the hospital and was told it would be in my best interest to go along with the story! So being afraid, I did what I was told.”
Officers took Rideaux from his Mount Sinai hospital bed to the notoriously violent Cook County jail. Despite the jail’s reputation, Homan Square hung over Rideaux’s head.
“I was told that I would have to go back to Homan Square if I [didn’t] keep my mouth shut!! So I did, and that’s the story.”
More than 12 years later, as police were arresting 22-year-old Dwand Ivery on a drug-distribution charge, one officer suspected Ivery had swallowed the illicit evidence. His response was to choke Ivery into spitting out “whatever it was he believed I ingested”, Ivery recalled in a letter to the Guardian from prison, with the officer’s partner, the driver of their vehicle, urging him to stop, “telling him ‘not outside’”.
As they drove to Homan Square, the officer, still convinced he could get Ivery to spit out drugs, used a metal object “in the shape of a short ink pen” as a tongue depressor “while applying pressure to my stomach with his left elbow”. He pressed down on the back of Ivery’s neck, effectively folding him over. “He held my head in that position until we reached the garage of Homan Square police station,” Ivery wrote, and despite his vomiting, “no drugs was never recovered”.
Ivery has asthma issues, he said, and the pressure on his stomach, neck and throat had caused him to continue vomiting. He was having trouble breathing. As the car pulled into Homan’s garage, he refused to get out and demanded the officers take him to the hospital. Additional officers rushed over – not to aid Ivery, but to restrain his legs. “I was cuffed around my ankles and [dragged] upstairs and placed in a cage,” he recalled.
The police version describes the incident somewhat differently: “Ivery was aggressive in the transport vehicle, yelling, attempting to kick A/Os [arresting officers] and headbutted A/O [redacted] in the backseat. Ivery spit on all A/Os in the vehicle. At Unit 189 [the Homan Square-based narcotics unit] Ivery had to be carried and again spit on and struck and kicked officers.”
From his “cage”, Ivery was moved into an interrogation room and cuffed to a metal bench. When the officers told him to stretch his legs straight out so they could remove his shoes, Ivery again refused and demanded medical attention. According to Ivery’s account, the police turned violent.
“I was struck with multiple blows with open and closed fist by two officers. My shoes was eventually removed and they began to strike me in my head and face area with those as well. I felt my face start to swell and deform instantly. This lasted for multiple minutes,” he wrote, until a plainclothes officer, hearing the commotion, went over to the interrogation room and told the cops Ivery had had enough.
Ivery recalled being left alone for the the next three to four hours before the plainclothes officer returned, asking if Ivery wanted “to help myself out”. Ivery requested a phone call and an asthma pump.
“He told me if I give him a address of a house that I knew had drugs and or guns in there he could turn the info over to the state prosecuter and they would release me. I didn’t have that type of information,” Ivery wrote.
Left by himself at Homan Square for what he estimates was another “2-3 hours”, Ivery recalled that he “constantly screamed” for medical attention and a phone call. Like hundreds of others, he instead was taken to the nearby formal police district station at West Harrison Street and South Kedzie Avenue for booking. But the booking officers there “refused to accept me [due] to my condition and the deformation of my face”, he wrote, and insisted they couldn’t book Ivery until he received medical attention.
The police report on Ivery acquired by the Guardian bears that out: “Subject is currently being treated at St. Anthony’s hospital,” it reads.
Checked boxes on the Tactical Response Report describe the police’s repertoire of force. The boxes checked for Ivery’s behavior are: “Did Not Follow Verbal Direction”, “Stiffened (Dead Weight)”, “Pulled Away” and – regarding a man restrained at the wrists and ankles – “Imminent Threat of Battery” and “Attack Without Weapon”. Other boxes are checked to indicate that an officer out of uniform suffered an injury.
The police officers’ responses are described through checked boxes as well: “Member Presence”, “Verbal Commands”, “Escort Holds”, “Wristlock”, “Armbar”, “Open Hand Strike”, “Take Down/Emergency Handcuffing”, “Closed Hand Strike/Punch”.
The form also includes a review by a senior officer into the incident. While the name of the officer is redacted, he or she concluded “the officers used reasonable force to effect the lawful arrest of the assailant/suspect” and the force used was “in compliance with department procedures and directives”. The reviewing officer did not interview Ivery.
The beating “leaves me with a deformed face, lack of vision in my left eye and multiple mental health problems that I now have to be medicated for, including anxiety and depression”, Ivery wrote to the Guardian. “That situation changed my life in a number of different ways.”
Zach Stafford in Chicago contributed reporting.
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