Judge forces cop to testify in Burge trial

Ex-detective will be key prosecution witness


By: NATASHA KORECKI AND FRANK MAIN
The Chicago Tribune
Friday, May 7, 2010

Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge leaves court at the federal building during a lunch break Wednesday.

(Brian Jackson/Sun-Times)

A former Chicago Police detective who allegedly witnessed former Cmdr. Jon Burge play "Russian roulette" with a suspect and put a typewriter cover over the man's head is expected to be a key prosecution witness in Burge's upcoming trial, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Michael McDermott, considered part of Burge's inner circle and accused of torturing criminal suspects himself, was forced by a judge to break a generations-long blue wall of silence and testify about what he knew while working under Burge.

"It's been an unbroken wall of solidarity with Mr. Burge. Nobody has been willing to break ranks," civil attorney Jon Loevy said. Loevy has represented alleged torture victims. "It would be the first time that any Chicago Police officer has spoken, to my knowledge, under oath, about what actually happened in Area 2 under the alleged abuses."

McDermott's testimony could be among the most damning in Burge's perjury and obstruction of justice trial, which begins later this month. Burge isn't charged with abusing suspects but with lying about the abuse in civil lawsuits alleging torture took place under his watch.

McDermott, who appears on the prosecution's publicly filed witness list, was forced to testify before the grand jury investigating Burge and is expected to testify under a grant of immunity at Burge's trial, McDermott's lawyer, Patrick Deady, said Thursday.

McDermott's testimony would break ranks with dozens of white officers who served with Burge in Area 2 and previously invoked their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent after they were subpoenaed in lawsuits filed by men alleging they were tortured. Several African-American detectives who were not an integral part of Burge's crew have talked to investigators in the past.

"If he's been given immunity and he tells the truth, he could be a very significant witness for the prosecution," said attorney Flint Taylor, who for years represented Burge's alleged victims.

Among the alleged torture cases involving Burge where McDermott was present, Taylor said, was that of Shadeed Mu'min, who is also on the government's witness list.

Mu'min, convicted of a 1985 robbery, has claimed he passed out twice while Burge held a plastic typewriter cover over his head. He also said Burge played "Russian roulette" with him, spinning a gun, putting it to Mu'min's head and pulling the trigger several times.

Deady refused to characterize McDermott's testimony and noted that McDermott is also on the defense witness list.

McDermott initially refused to testify before the grand jury, asserting his Fifth Amendment right. But he was compelled to do so by Chief U.S. District Judge James Holderman, Deady said. McDermott faced jail time if he refused.

"He was immunized before the grand jury and I expect him again to be immunized at trial," Deady said. "He testified before the grand jury on more than one occasion and he is going to testify at trial."

Burge, 62, who lives in Florida, was briefly inside a Chicago federal courtroom Thursday where a pool of 77 potential jurors were summoned to fill out a questionnaire. Leaving court, Burge -- who recently underwent cancer treatment and has trouble walking -- said he felt "terrible'' physically.

Deady said he expects Burge's trial judge, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow, to grant McDermott immunity next week.

One of Burge's lawyers, Rick Beuke, downplayed the significance of McDermott's testimony.

"There's a lot of former detectives on the [witness] list," Beuke said.

McDermott -- along with Burge -- was among the Chicago Police detectives named in 2006 by a state special prosecutor who said there was evidence that McDermott committed crimes during his interrogation of murder suspect Alphonso Pinex. The special prosecutor's report said McDermott and another detective could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had long passed.

Four black officers who worked with Burge have given sworn statements about their memories of Area 2 at the time. They are also on the witness list for federal prosecutors in Burge's upcoming trial. One of them is Sam Lacey, a lawyer, who worked in Area 2 for about seven years until 1988. He said Burge had an "A team" whose detectives mostly worked on the midnight shift and that "something was not going right on the midnights."

His former partner, Doris Byrd, a retired sergeant, said she could hear screaming from interview rooms when the "A team" was working.

The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.