County commissioner wants investigation into Homan Square detention facility
Kory Wright and others allege they were mistreated or abused while being held there
Chief of Legal Aid group says 99% are without an attorney during detention
Chicago Police Department adamantly denies allegations about Homan Square
Kory Wright dreamed of being a Chicago police officer.
But his image of police was shattered when he was arrested on his 20th birthday as he was interrogated at a detention facility called Homan Square. Wright says he was zip-tied to a bench in an overheated room on a summer day and denied access to an attorney. He was charged with selling a controlled substance and placed on house arrest, he told CNN.
It would be four months before a judge ruled he was not guilty of the crime he was adamant he never committed.
“It was a farce from the beginning,” Wright says. “It ruined my life.”
Wright’s story is part of a large group of allegations involving citywide human rights violations during arrest and detention and comes amid growing scrutiny about the practices of the Chicago Police Department.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said last month that Homan Square was not within the scope of the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the patterns and practices of the Police Department. But she did say the department could choose to expand the investigation if further details came to light that brought up Constitutional concerns.
But Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin is perhaps taking the most aggressive step to ensure allegations such as those leveled by Wright and others aren’t swept under the rug. He introduced a resolution before the Board of Commissioners on Wednesday to call upon the Justice Department to change its stance and include several civil rights allegations at Homan Square in its investigation.
The measure passed.
Boykin has toured Homan Square and called it “eerily quiet” with “cramped lock-up spaces that resembled cages.” He said the lack of fingerprint equipment in the facility is proof nobody should be taken there after being arrested.
The Chicago Police Department denies that Homan Square or any detention facility in the city violates people’s civil rights, sending CNN a fact sheet saying all allegations of abuse are not only “inaccurate” and “misleading” but “unequivocally false,” “offensive” and “not supported by any facts whatsoever.”
But Wright and others say their stories tell the truth about a disturbing lack of access to basic civil rights.
’I thought I was going to jail for murder’
Wright says he was getting his hair braided on his aunt’s porch early in the morning on June 2005 when police officers pulled up and jumped out of their cruisers. They rushed toward the house, handcuffed him and a friend and drove them away to a detention facility.
“I didn’t even know I was arrested; they just put the handcuffs on me and searched me,” he says.
Wright maintains he was not read his Miranda rights before being taken to Homan Square on Chicago’s west side. The large facility, formerly a massive retail warehouse, has been used by the Chicago Police since 1999.
“One of the officers implied it was going to get hot, and it did,” said Wright.
He says he was interrogated in a small room, while his left hand was zip-tied to a bench; the room temperature, he remembers, was high enough to keep him sweating. Officer after officer, he says, asked him about the details of a murder and drug cases he didn’t know anything about.
“I was frantic,” he recalls. “I thought I was going to jail for murder.”
The interrogation lasted for hours, Wright says. He lost track of time, only realizing the day was almost over when he was being transferred and noticed the sun was starting to go down. He says he asked for a phone call and for an attorney but was not granted access to counsel until three days later.
Court records show he was released and placed on “electronic monitoring” after three days in jail.
The police fact sheet says “there is no way to regulate heat in individual rooms at the facility” and “any change in temperature would affect an entire floor or zone and can only be done by calling in a building engineer.” The Chicago Police Department did not provide any further comment on Homan Square or Wright’s allegations.
It is unclear why Wright was arrested near a District 10 police station, arrest records show, but taken to District 11 for holding.
The probable cause statement says Wright “was positively identified” by a female undercover police officer “as the person who delivered .4 grams of crack cocaine to her” in “exchange for $20.”
“I felt relieved and scared at the same time,” he said of being accused of buying drugs. “I felt relieved that I didn’t do it; but at the same time, I felt that that was a serious accusation,” Wright told CNN.
At his bench trial, an officer was asked to point to the person she bought drugs from – and she pointed to someone else, Wright remembers.
“It was the best day of my life,” Wright told CNN.
Attorney: ‘Just the tip of the iceberg’
Chicago attorney Flint Taylor represents three African American men who say they were unlawfully arrested, handcuffed to a wall in a dark cell, strip-searched and denied access to food and counsel. Jessie Patrick, Atheris Mann and Deanda Wilson claim they were “physically and psychologically abused” and held “incommunicado” at Homan Square and charged with crimes they didn’t commit.
“I think that it is a pattern and practice of racially discriminatory unconstitutional police conduct that includes human rights violations that spans more than a decade,” Taylor told CNN.
Taylor says his clients were arrested on October 21, 2013, and charged with the manufacture and delivery of heroin and held in custody for 15 months before going to trial. Cook County Judge William O’Brien would find them not guilty of all charges because of lack of evidence, according to the civil complaint filed against the police officers and the city of Chicago.
The three plaintiffs allege that the police officers used racial slurs, including the n-word, “held a knife” to one of their necks and “fabricated and manufactured false inculpatory evidence” to be used against them.
The city of Chicago did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit, but in their fact sheet, they deny using violence in interrogations.
“What we know about Homan Square may well be just the tip of the iceberg of what has gone on and continues there, and we expect that our lawsuit will uncover more evidence and that the DOJ will include it in its investigation,” Taylor says.
The problem is “citywide,” according to Eliza Solowiej, the executive director of First Defense Legal Aid. Solowiej and her team of attorneys provide pro-bono legal representation in Chicago but says she became very curious when she realized her office was not getting any calls from police stations.
Research, surveys and data showed the group it was mostly family members calling them “because people in police custody aren’t being allowed to use the phone until the very end” of their arrest, she says.
To get a more concrete answer, Solowiej says she filed a freedom of information request, asking for the number of people arrested by Chicago police in 2013 and how many had access to an attorney.
“More than 99 percent of their arrestees at every single station are without an attorney throughout the duration of their detainment,” Solowiej says.
That means less than 1% of those arrested in Chicago in 2013 had a lawyer while in police custody. A University of California Irvine Law Review study recently included that detail and furthermore found that in Chicago “arrestees can be detained without a lawyer for a maximum of three days.” Illinois law only stipulates a person is entitled to communicate with an attorney “within a reasonable time” after an arrest.
“This is about justice. It’s about access to constitutional rights,” Solowiej told CNN. “How can someone access their rights without an advocate, without someone to stand with them?”
The city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department did not respond to a CNN request for comment about arrestees’ access to lawyers.
The lack of those basic rights and the drug charge that followed haunt Kory Wright. He says that while he knows he was vindicated by the court system, the stigma follows him wherever he goes.
He missed a semester of college because he was on house arrest for four months. While he went to college and earned a bachelor’s of science in commerce and is pursuing a master’s degree in engineering, his fight continues every day.
“Forever now, I’ll be the guy that’s indicted,” he says.
Wright carries his court documents to job interviews and internships.
More often than not, he says, he has to show employers a judge ruled he was “not guilty.”