Darrell Cannon spent 24 years in prison for a crime officials say he never committed. But in 1988 he was offered and accepted a $3,000 from the city to settle a torture complaint. Carol Marin reports.
"They lie about it. Then they destroy evidence and then they engage in this lengthy cover-up with other city officials."
Those are the words of Federal Appellate Judge Ilana Rovner.
The setting: the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The hearing: to determine if Darrell Cannon has the legal standing to sue the city for what he says occurred in 1983.
The Judge's language: directed not at Cannon, but the city of Chicago.
In 1983, Cannon, then a member of the El Rukn street gang, was arrested on suspicion of murder.
Officers under the command of Jon Burge interrogated him. Cannon says that interrogation included having an electric cattle prod on his genitals. Officer Peter Dignan also allegedly placed a shotgun in Cannon’s mouth, according to court documents.
"When Dignan pulled that trigger, it seemed like the hair on the back on my head, stood straight up," Cannon said in a 2010 interview.
Cannon confessed to a crime he says he did not commit and spent 24 years in prison. The charges were dismissed in 2004.
Prior to that, the city in 1988 offered, and Cannon accepted, $3,000 to satisfy his torture complaint.
That was before more than 100 cases of police torture were verified and Burge was sent to prison. Now Cannon is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to open the door for him to recover far more than that $3,000.
In January, assistant corporation counsel Justin Houppert was grilled by Judge Rovner.
Houppert: The original officers denied they did this.
Rovner: They didn’t just deny. The lied. They cheated…They committed cover-ups.
Houppert: Mr. Cannon had first hand, personal knowledge all the facts necessary to come and establish his claim.
Rovner: You’ve got to help me here. What planet does he have a meaningful redress with the court under those circumstances?
Cannon now says he was following the lead of his attorney in 1988 when he accepted the city’s offer of $3,000.
"If I had known then what I know now there is no way on God’s green earth I would have settled for $3,000," Cannon said this week.
Today former police commander Burge sits in a federal prison, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.
When he was indicted in 2008, then U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the investigation into the so-called Midnight Crew, officers who worked under Burge’s command, continued.
"We have a reason to believe that other people may well have lied under oath about that torture abuse," Fitzgerald said at a 2008 press conference.
But the statute of limitations has run on officers John Byrne and Peter Dignan, according to Flint Taylor, Cannon’s current attorney.
"It’s too bad that the government didn’t finish the job that they started," said Taylor of the People’s Law Office.
Both Byrne and Dignan exercised their 5th Amendment rights when deposed. And both adamantly deny they tortured any suspect.
By phone Byrne said,
"Darrell Cannon is a two-time convicted murdered who never deserved the $3,000 and doesn’t deserve another payday at taxpayer expense,” Byrne said by phone.
Dignan, also reached by phone, echoed those sentiments.
Meanwhile, Cannon now works for Ceasefire to try and prevent violence and waits for the next step in a very long journey.
"The full justice can never be given to me because of what I’ve lost in those 24 years," he said.
Taylor said he expects the appellate court to have a decision within three to six months.