Ex-Cop Witness Recants Earlier Testimony

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Sun-Times
    Former Police Cmdr. Jon Burge

    Michael McDermott would have liked to have been anywhere but the 19th floor of the Dirksen federal building on Monday. And the courtroom of Judge Joan Lefkow.

    "If I am under oath, I will tell the truth," he said. McDermott was on the witness stand testifying against his former Lieutenant, Jon Burge. He appeared uncomfortable as he was compelled to testify through a grant of immunity. As McDermott spoke, Burge, with his hands clasped, starred straight ahead, his eyes darting now and then toward his former detective.

    McDermott served under Burge starting in 1981, working homicides out of Area 2 police headquarters on the far southside.

    Burge, 62, is on trial for perjury and obstruction of justice when he said he never tortured anyone or knew of anyone who did.

    For more than 20 years, Burge has been accused of heading a small band of white Chicago police officers that used torture to extract confessions from black suspects, including electroshocks and suffocations with typewriter covers. He was fired by the city in 1993 for torturing suspect cop-killer Andrew Wilson.

    In 2008 federal authorities charged him with the lesser counts, but could not indict him on torture as the statute of limitations on those allegations had expired.

    Until today, not a single member of Burge's team has ever testified against him.

    McDermott may have been the prosecution's witness, but from the beginning he praised Burge as the best of his lieutenant bosses.

    "He was a good lieutenant," he said.  "He was on top of things."

    He said he witnessed a 20 second scuffle in 1985 between Burge and a robbery suspect named Shaheed Mu'min.

    But McDermott on Monday changed his tune. 

    "I've changed my mind about this," McDermott said. "I don't think there was abuse in any way."

    That's when prosecutor April Perry pounced.

    McDermott's 2008 grand jury testimony was read forcefully read back to him:  "Didn’t you say you saw Burge point a gun at Mu’min? Didn’t you say you saw plastic put over Mu’min’s head? Didn’t you testify to that under oath?"

    McDermott said he has since rethought his grand jury testimony. But he also admitted lying during past torture investigations.

    On Monday, he said what he witnessed was not abuse, but inappropriate police procedures.

    "From what I saw I thought it was inappropriate," he testified.  "You thought you should have done something about it," Perry asked.

    "Yes," McDermott replied.

    "I think what you saw today was the code of silence back at work," said attorney Flint Taylor, who represents those who have accused Burge of torture. Taylor suggested McDermott was trying to protect both himself while not hurt Jon Burge but failed at both.

    "His words under oath to the grand jury belied how he tried to reinterpret them today," Taylor said.

    McDermott faced losing his police pension if he didn't testify but now that he has, he said he fully expects to lose his current job as a state's attorney investigator.

    Five suspects who claimed they were tortured have testified. Testimony is expected to conclude early next week.