Illinois Public Media News
A decorated former Chicago police officer whose name has become synonymous with police brutality in the city was sentenced Friday to 4 1/2 years in federal prison for lying about the torture of suspects.
Dozens of suspects - almost all of them black men - have claimed for decades that Jon Burge and his officers electrically shocked, suffocated and beat them into confessing to crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow said the sentence reflected the seriousness of the allegations and, in making her decision, she wondered why a respected officer so admired by his department would resort to such violence.
"My best guess is ambition," Lefkow said. "Perhaps the praise, the publicity and the commendations . . . were seductive and led you down this path."
Burge was charged with lying when he testified in a civil lawsuit brought by Madison Hobley, who was sentenced to death for a 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his wife and son. Hobley was later pardoned.
Hobley claimed detectives put a plastic typewriter cover over his head to make it impossible for him to breathe. Burge denied knowing anything about the "bagging" or taking part in it. The indictment against Burge never said Hobley was tortured but accused Burge of lying about participating in or knowing about torture that took place under his watch. Burge has never faced criminal charges for abuse.
While the former police commander denied during his five-week trial that torture took place, Lefkow noted the jury hadn't believed him - and neither had she. In considering a sentence, Lefkow told Burge she took into account his "unwillingness to acknowledge the truth in the face of all the evidence."
Burge stood facing Lefkow as she read a statement and the sentence. Her offer to let him sit given his poor heath drew groans of protest from the victims and courtroom observers, who otherwise sat rapt as the judge spoke. As Lefkow talked about victims' testimony that she'd found particularly moving, Burge's sister-in-law left the courtroom.
Earlier Friday, Burge told the judge he knew his case brought the police department into disrepute and "for that, I am deeply sorry." He insisted he wasn't the person who's been "vilified" by the media but didn't specifically address the allegations of torture and abuse.
Burge was fired from the department in 1993 for mistreating a suspect, and he choked back tears as he talked about how the case cost him his job and his reputation.
"I'm 63 years old, and while I try to keep a proud face, in reality, I am a broken man," he said.
Burge's attorneys and supporters had pleaded for leniency, noting he has prostate cancer, congestive heart failure and other health problems. His brother asked Lefkow to be "humane," saying, "almost any sentence will be a death sentence, and I don't want to see him die in prison."
More than 30 Burge supporters, many of them police officers, sent Lefkow letters to praising Burge's dedication to his job, selflessness and effectiveness as a police officer and investigator. Two jurors from Burge's trial also wrote letters on his behalf, with one suggesting a prison term of three years would be appropriate.
But the judge said she also received letters from Burge's victims, members of the black community and others who argued for a lengthy sentence. One letter she said she'd be haunted by was from an inmate who'd been incarcerated for 30 years for a crime he said he didn't commit but was tortured into confessing to by the police.
"I had the body of a man, but I was a child inside," Lefkow said he wrote in his letter.
Hobley's sister broke down in tears Friday morning as she talked about the effect her brother's case had on their family. Robin Hobley looked directly at Burge and, with her voice breaking, said: "You put us through 16 years of torment . . . of people believing my brother was a murderer, and he wasn't. You have no idea what you did to our family.
"We believed in the system, we believed in the police.
Champaign officials are considering a series of cuts that would affect the city's emergency service departments.
The proposal would not lead to any job cuts to the city's firefighting services, but it would mean closing one firefighting company at Fire Station Four on West John Street, on days when overtime is needed to keep the station running. According to Champaign Firefighters Local 1260 President Chris Zaremba, that would have a dramatic effect on the response time on the city's west side, and could hurt other areas if those firefighters are tied up.
Zaremba said he hopes the public provides feedback on the proposed cuts at the city council study session Tuesday night, and in the days ahead.
"Tuesday night being a study session as opposed to a council meeting, your ability to speak publicly is a lot less," Zaremba said. "What we really want to see and what we're really hoping to see in the near future is not our members come out, but educated citizens come out and express concerns about it."
The recommended budget cuts would lead to the elimination of one person at the police station who staffs the front desk during over night hours from 7 pm to 7 am. City Manager Steve Carter said as a result of the cuts, those inquiring about a towed vehicle or similar service would have to wait until morning. However, he noted that they should be calling METCAD 9-1-1 in the event of a crime or accident.
City Manager Steve Carter suggests that is what mutual aid is for, citing the fire that destroyed the Metropolitan Building in October 2008.
"We have several departments from the surrounding area helping us, and we respond likewise when they don't have adequate staffing," Carter said. "No community can afford by themselves to staff at a level that can address any conceivable emergency situation."
The City Building's information desk would also be closed. The city manager's staff would help route phone calls while the general telephone number would be eliminated.
In total, fifteen city positions would be cut if the $3.5 million reduction plan is approved by the Champaign City Council in March. These cuts would be among the most visible aspects of a spending reduction plan that seeks to eliminate a $2 million gap in the current city budget.
The council votes on the changes in March, but Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman said there is no set date when the fire department would make the change, suggesting sales tax receipts could improve later in the year. But Champaign City Finance Director Richard Schnuer said that is unlikely based on the predictions of economists.
"One major revenue source has turned from dropping to now increasing slightly, but our costs are increasing in many ways in which we have limited control," he said.
City staff is also recommending a voluntary separation program. Through it, Carter said it is still possible the city could achieve the savings it is seeking without layoffs.
Champaign's Art Theater is bringing real life to the screen for the next week. Stories for its first Documentary Festival in the next week include the study of a popular comedienne, the well-profiled downfall of a former New York Governor, and a look at failings in the American education system. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with Theater manager Sanford Hess, who says showing the films is a simple matter of downloading them, in the same way the Art has been offering opera and ballet performances.
Due to this week's snowfall, Champaign City officials have once again activated their sidewalk snow removal ordinance, as of Friday, Jan. 21 at 11:30 AM.
The ordinance can go in effect whenever the city receives two inches or more of sidewalk snow accumulation.
Property owners in Champaign's Downtown and Campustown areas have 48 hours to clear their sidewalks of snow and ice --- in this case until Sunday, Jan. 23 at 11:30 AM. If sidewalks are not cleared by that time, they could be cleared by the city at the owner's expense.
Details about the ordinance and maps of the Downtown and Campustown areas can be found on the City of Champaign website.
Illinois officials say residents can take refuge at more than 120 warming centers, as bitter cold settles over the state.
The Illinois Department of Human Services says the other centers are located at IDHS offices throughout the state and will be open during regular business hours.
The warming center locations include: 801 N. Walnut St. and 1307 N. Mattis Ave. in Champaign; 707 E. Wood St. in Decatur; 220 S. Bowman Ave. in Danville; 207 E. Ficklin in Tuscola; 11773 Illinois Highway 1 in Paris; 806 E. Walnut St. in Watseka; 501 W. Washington in Bloomington; 119 W. State St. in Charleston
Warming centers will also open at the seven Illinois Tollway Oases in the Chicago area.
IDHS Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler says the centers are a safe place to stay for people who need a warm place to go or who cannot afford to turn up the heat during the day.
A list of participating centers is available at www.keepwarm.illinois.gov.
Governor Pat Quinn says "zero politics" was involved in his decision to appoint Ricardo Estrada to the U of I board, instead of re-appointing another Hispanic Democrat who he had named to the board in 2009.
Carlos Tortolero told the Chicago Tribune that he believes Quinn's decision not to reappoint him to the board was "political". He says he asked for an explanation for the governor's decision, but never got one. Quinn says he likes Tortolero, who heads the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. But the governor says he didn't want to keep reappointing the same people as U of I Board. Quinn says Estrada is an excellent choice for trustee.
"He has worked in the settlement house movement in our city, state of Illinois and done a great job," said Quinn. "And he also served on our Admissions Review committee that we put together to straighten things out. And I thought he did such a good job that he would be a good man for this position."
Besides serving on the panel Quinn set up to investigate the U of I admissions scandal, Estrada is a former executive director of Erie Neighborhood House, a Chicago social service agency serving primarily Latino families. Estrada says serving on the panel following the U of I's admissions scandal helped a great deal in preparing him.
"I learned a lot about the university, its practices, and policies," he said. "And the great things they were doing, and the issues they had at the time. I've come to this board with my eyes wide open, and hope to contribute."
Estrada says he hopes to be a great steward with university resources and the public trust. Estrada was seated at Thursday's U of I Board meeting in Chicago, along with another new trustee, attorney Patricia Brown Holmes, who says one of her goes is keeping tuition costs down.
"Increasing tuition to a point where it's unaffordable is just unacceptable," she said. "I don't think that that's going to be one of our goals, and I think we will do whatever we can to keep it affordable."
Quinn also re-appointed another of his 2009 appointees, former Springfield mayor Karen Hasara. The six-year appointments must be confirmed by the Illinois Senate. Trustees re-elected Merchandise Mart boss Chris Kennedy as their chairman.
The city of Champaign is getting ready to release another round of budget cuts - and some city employees may be given the option to leave their jobs.
City manager Steve Carter will tell city council members next week about a proposal for a voluntary separation incentive. If the council approves, some union and non-union employees would be able to get two weeks' salary for each year of service up to 26 weeks if they agree to leave, with a minimum of $10,000.
Carter said he expects about 20 employees would accept the incentive, which will be offered first to people whose jobs are already under threat of being cut.
"Any position, whether through past budget decisions or the ones we're going to be discussing next Tuesday, those will be our top priority (for separation offers)," Carter said. "We have the ability to lay people off, but our preference would be not to. We have really good employees, and if we can find a way to make this more mutual, the better for the organization and for the people."
Carter said police officers and firefighters would not be offered voluntary separation because their positions would likely have to be re-filled. He said the city administration will say what other budget cuts they think should be made in the middle of the current year's budget. The last five year forecast suggested the city needed to cut $1.2 million in recurring costs from this year's spending plan.
University of Illinois trustees have adopted a policy designed to limit tuition increases even as they raise the cost of housing at the school's three campuses.
The tuition policy approved Thursday links tuition increases to inflation and other factors.
Students are guaranteed by state law to pay the tuition rate they paid in their freshman year throughout their undergraduate years. But the rate increases for most incoming classes.
This year, tuition increased 9.5 percent and led to complaints from some students and parents. The cost of tuition and housing for a typical undergraduate year at the Urbana-Champaign campus is more than $20,000.
Governor Pat Quinn said he likes 'the basic framework and concept' for the next year's tuition that was outlined Thursday by University of Illinois Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr.
"I think that has a lot of merit to try and keep tuition pretty much even with inflation and adjusted dollars," Quinn said. "I think carrying that out is a good mission."
Quinn said the state is also putting about $404 million into grants for MAP, or the Monetary Awards program., but he said the demand is at least 50-percent higher that. Quinn added that one of his goals for the next four years is to secure more scholarship money for students who attend Illinois' public universities and community colleges.
Trustees on Thursday also raised the cost of a double dorm room in Urbana-Champaign 4 percent to $9,452 a year. Costs in Springfield and Chicago increased less sharply.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Mitsubishi Motors North America plans to produce a new model at its plant in Normal, Ill., extending the life of the facility just a month after employees agreed to lower wages the company said were needed to keep it open.
Mitsubishi announced the plans as part of new, global business plan aimed at revitalizing the troubled Japanese automaker.
"One of the main pillars of this (plan) is a transition from region-specific models with all of the specifics that entails - producing for a single market, single group of consumers, a single economy - to more global models that are produced for multiple markets," Mitsubishi spokesman Dan Irvin said. "And the new model will be one of those global models."
The company plans to announce what the new model will be in the next few weeks, he said, but all four models now made at the central Illinois plant - the Galant, Eclipse and Spyder and the Endeavor sport utility vehicle - will be phased out.
Employees and local officials at the plant said they're still waiting for details on the new model and to learn whether it will keep all 1,300 plant employees on the job. But the news that one of the largest and highest-paying area employers will stay open was a relief.
"These jobs are very hard to come by and, again, particularly in this economy when most companies of this nature are just hoping to sustain their current employment levels," city manager Mark Peterson said. "These would be, I hate to say impossible, but almost impossible to replace."
The United Auto Workers said Mitsubishi's announcement was a just reward for tough pay concessions its members had little choice but to accept.
"Considering the economy, the state of the economy right now, I think the decision was pretty clear for a majority of the members," UAW local President Ralph Timan said. "It was a tough decision, and it came with sacrifices."
Two-thirds of the union's almost 1,100 members at the plant voted last month to cut a reported $1.67 an hour from their wages after the company said it needed the concessions to remain competitive.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said at the time that it was talking with Mitsubishi about possible incentives. The agency and company continue to talk but so far no tax breaks or other incentives have been provided spokesman Mike Claffey said.
Like the auto industry in general, Mitsubishi North America has struggled with slow sales. The company's U.S. market share for 2009 was just over one half of one percent - the lowest level since 1985, according to WardsAuto.com, a web site that tracks auto industry data.
The company's new business plan, which it calls Jump 2013, is aimed at producing more vehicles to sell in emerging markets such as China and Brazil. The goal, according to a company release, is to raise sales to 1.37 million vehicles in 2013 from the roughly 1 million it expects it will sell by the end of the current fiscal year in March.
The Normal plant started making the Gallant and the other three models it now manufactures in 2005, Irvin said.
"They've been very good to us for a very long time," he said.
The plant at one point employed far more workers, but 1,200 were laid off in 2004 as part of what Mitsubishi said at the time was its last chance for survival. Those layoffs have been followed by other wage and benefit concessions.
Peterson said Thursday that he's anxiously waiting for details about what the company's new model will mean for job numbers at the 22-year-old plant.
"The questions is: Now that's one model - is that going to sustain all 1,100 existing jobs, and could it mean more out there?" he said.
President Barack Obama is shifting senior White House staffers to his hometown of Chicago and opening a campaign headquarters there as he steps up preparations for the formal launch of his re-election bid this spring.
The moves open a new chapter in Obama's presidency; he will juggle dual roles of candidate and president for the remainder of his first term.
As aides ramped up preparations for 2012, outgoing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president will soon file papers with the Federal Election Commission to formally declare his candidacy. Officials say fundraising and grass-roots organizing is to begin in March or April.
"We've made progress on getting the economy back in order and I think the president wants to continue to do that," Gibbs said.
Thus, Obama is starting to execute a campaign plan that's been in the works for months. Under it:
Obama's deputy chief of staff Jim Messina will leave the White House to serve as campaign manager. Aides say he's looking for office space in downtown Chicago, and reaching out to potential campaign donors and consultants.
White House social secretary Juliana Smoot and Democratic National Committee executive director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon will serve as deputy campaign managers. Both are veterans of the 2008 campaign, with Smoot having served as finance director and Dillon focusing on battleground states.
As the campaign approaches, the White House plans to close its political affairs office and move its functions to the DNC. White House political director Patrick Gaspard will join the DNC as executive director.
Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will continue to serve as the committee's chairman. He announced the changes at a DNC staff meeting Thursday.
Gibbs said dismantling the White House political wing was "a matter of duplication and efficiency that makes a lot of sense."
However, Gibbs said he doesn't expect the president to be hitting the campaign trail anytime soon.
"Just because the president sets up the machinery of ultimately running for re-election does not mean that you're going to see the president doing a ton of political reelection events," he said.
The developments are a part of broader White House changes as Obama prepares for his re-election race.
David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager in 2008, recently joined the White House; senior adviser David Axelrod plans to join the campaign in Chicago and Gibbs is to serve as a consultant.
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