Homan Square revealed: how Chicago police ‘disappeared’ 7,000 people

Homan Square revealed: how Chicago police ‘disappeared’ 7,000 people

Police “disappeared” more than 7,000 people at an off-the-books interrogation warehouse in Chicago, nearly twice as many detentions as previously disclosed, the Guardian can now reveal.

From August 2004 to June 2015, nearly 6,000 of those held at the facility were black, which represents more than twice the proportion of the city’s population. But only 68 of those held were allowed access to attorneys or a public notice of their whereabouts, internal police records show.

The new disclosures, the result of an ongoing Guardian transparency lawsuit and investigation, provide the most detailed, full-scale portrait yet of the truth about Homan Square, a secretive facility that Chicago police have described as little more than a low-level narcotics crime outpost where the mayor has said police “follow all the rules”.

The police portrayals contrast sharply with those of Homan Square detainees and their lawyers, who insist that “if this could happen to someone, it could happen to anyone”. A 30-year-old man named Jose, for example, was one of the few detainees with an attorney present when he surrendered to police. He said officers at the warehouse questioned him even after his lawyer specifically told them he would not speak.

“The Fillmore and Homan boys,” Jose said, referring to police and the facility’s cross streets, “don’t play by the rules.”

According to an analysis of data disclosed to the Guardian in late September, police allowed lawyers access to Homan Square for only 0.94% of the 7,185 arrests logged over nearly 11 years. That percentage aligns with Chicago police’s broader practice of providing minimal access to attorneys during the crucial early interrogation stage, when an arrestee’s constitutional rights against self-incrimination are most vulnerable.

But Homan Square is unlike Chicago police precinct houses, according to lawyers who described a “find-your-client game” and experts who reviewed data from the latest tranche of arrestee records obtained by the Guardian.

“Not much shakes me in this business – baby murder, sex assault, I’ve done it all,” said David Gaeger, an attorney whose client was taken to Homan Square in 2011 after being arrested for marijuana. “That place was and is scary. It’s a scary place. There’s nothing about it that resembles a police station. It comes from a Bond movie or something.”

The narcotics, vice and anti-gang units operating out of Homan Square, on Chicago’s west side, take arrestees to the nondescript warehouse from all over the city: police data obtained by the Guardian and mapped against the city grid show that 53% of disclosed arrestees come from more than 2.5 miles away from the warehouse. No contemporaneous public record of someone’s presence at Homan Square is known to exist.

Nor are any booking records generated at Homan Square, as confirmed by a sworn deposition of a police researcher in late September, further preventing relatives or attorneys from finding someone taken there.

“The reality is, no one knows where that person is at Homan Square,” said Craig Futterman, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who studies policing. “They’re disappeared at that point.”

A Chicago police spokesman did not respond to a list of questions for this article, including why the department had doubled its initial arrest disclosures without an explanation for the lag. “If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them,” the police claimed in a February statement.

Numbers are ‘hard to believe’
Twenty-two people have told the Guardian that Chicago police kept them at Homan Square for hours and even days. They describe pressure from officers to become informants, and all but two – both white – have said the police denied them phone calls to alert relatives or attorneys of their whereabouts.

Their accounts point to violations of police directives, which say police must “complete the booking process” regardless of their interest in interrogating a suspect and must also “allow the arrestee to make a reasonable number of telephone calls to an attorney, family member or friend”, usually within “the first hour” of detention.

The most recent disclosure of Homan Square data provides the scale behind those accounts: the demographic trends within the 7,185 disclosed arrests at the warehouse are now far more vast than what the Guardian reported in August after launching the transparency lawsuit – but are consistently disproportionate in terms of race and constitutional access to legal counsel.

82.2% of people detained at Homan Square were black, compared with 32.9% of the Chicago population.
11.8% of detainees in the Homan Square logs were Hispanic, compared with 28.9% of the population.
5.5% of the detainees were white, compared with 31.7% of the population.
Of the 68 people who Chicago police claim had access to counsel at Homan Square, however, 45% were black, 26% were Hispanic and another 26% were white.



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