A Black man who served nearly 30 years in prison for murder before being exonerated last year has filed a lawsuit against members of the Chicago Police Department, Cook County and the city of Chicago, alleging he was beaten and tortured as officers coerced him into signing a false confession. The alleged treatment took place under Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who has died, although the suit names his estate.
Keith Walker, now 53, and his attorneys spoke at a press conference on Tuesday and announced the suit, the Chicago Tribune reported. “Today, Keith is seeking a small measure of justice,” attorney Sean Starr said.
“I think everybody in the world should know that these people are still out here,” said Walker. “I want justice. I’m starting this lawsuit today because I’m seeking justice for the people who treated me unjust — not like a human being.”
Burge died in 2018 but his “midnight crew” of officers and detectives is believed to have tortured more than 100 people, mostly Black men, under his command between the 1970s and 1990s to obtain false confessions. Victims alleged they had been subjected to mock lynchings, electroshock, beatings and burning, suffocated and forced to play Russian roulette. Burge was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for lying under oath in civil lawsuits connected to the torture. The city of Chicago paid $5.5 million to 57 Burge torture victims in 2016.
In 2019, another Black man was freed after spending 29 years in prison with horror stories very similar to Walker’s.
On June 3, 1991 18-year-old Shawn Wicks, who was white, was shot four times on the south side of Chicago in a largely Black neighborhood after he resisted a robbery attempt while buying marijuana. He died a week later, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
A man told Chicago Police Detective Daniel McWeeny that he, Wicks and 23-year-old Walker were going to buy marijuana when someone shot Wicks, so he and Walker fled.
Authorities located Walker and took him to the Area 3 police station where Walker says he was tortured. Walker said officers took turns calling him the N-word, beat him, and administered electric shocks from a hand-cranked generator on four occasions.
Walker was arrested and subjected to a second round of torture on July 2 and ultimately signed a prepared confession statement. He later said he feared he would continue to face abuse if he didn’t cooperate. Walker and two other men were charged with first-degree murder and attempted robbery in connection with Wicks’ death. He was convicted on the charges in December 1994 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
By 2004, the courts had taken up Walker’s appeal for relief on the grounds of actual innocence and the use of coerced confession against him, but it wasn’t until 2020 prosecutors with the state attorney general’s office — which at some point took over the case from Cook County after the office’s recusal — decided to drop the case and Walker was exonerated in last August.
The lawsuit claims Chicago police officers and Cook County prosecutors fabricated and suppressed evidence and concealed knowledge of the abuse.
“When someone is convicted and spends 30 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, not only is there no justice for the victim and the victim’s family, but a man’s life is essentially destroyed, having the prime of his life kidnapped, basically, and thrown into a maximum security prison.” said Jon Loevy, one of Walker’s attorneys. “On the problem of wrongful convictions, the justice system needs to make reforms and, in this particular case, Mr. Walker needs justice.”
Walker said he wants the officers who tortured him to be punished but the lawsuit isn’t about financial gain.
“Money comes and goes,” said Walker. “But you don’t.”