Three men have sued Chicago police over its controversial Homan Square facility, saying police took them there, handcuffed them to cell walls for hours, denied them access to lawyers and refused their requests for food, water and bathroom access.
Their federal civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday — which names three Chicago police officers, other unknown officers and the city as defendants — says police "blatantly violated" the plaintiffs' civil rights.
Police have not responded to the lawsuit, but a police spokesman last month denied similar allegations about the facility, saying that it was not off-the-books, that suspects were allowed access to their lawyers and that the building is considered sensitive because officers there are often working undercover.
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In their lawsuit, John Vergara, Jose Garcia and Carlos Ruiz say armed, masked police officers seized them from a Chicago restaurant in 2011 and took them to what they call an "off the books detainment center" on the city's West Side.
"I felt as if I was kidnapped from this restaurant," said Vergara. "Nobody knew where we were, where we were taken — my family, friends, nobody."
"I was so afraid that I try to remember some things, but I prefer not to," Ruiz added. "For me, it was like going to hell."
Blake Horwitz, a lawyer for the three plaintiffs, said the men were chained to a bench for up to nine hours, despite numerous requests for attorneys.
"Four of the men had done nothing wrong at all. They were merely customers at a restaurant," he said.
The men said officers, some still masked, came in and interrogated them, threatening to charge them with a crime unless they gave officers information.
"The officers say, 'We found these drugs, we are going to pin them on you unless you give us information,'" Horwitz said.
Horwitz said that his clients were told they couldn't report the incident after their release.
"I just think that we deserved due process. We just didn’t get that," Garcia said.
Horwitz said the tactics used by police paint a pattern at the Homan Square site.
"It seems that there’s something particular about Homan Square where [suspects are] taken off the grid and that kind of thing," Horwitz said.
Chicago police said in a statement that "arrests and interview procedures are "matters of people's most basic rights, and CPD abides by all laws, rules and guideline pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses at Homan Square or any other CPD facility."
The Homan Square department has become a target in recent months following reports comparing the center to the terrorist detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.
Last month, police denied allegations that suspects taken to the facility were beaten and denied access to their legal representation.
“If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them," police spokesman Martin Maloney said.
He refuted the suggestion that the facility was off-the-books, saying that there's always a record of anyone who is arrested by police officers.
He said the building is considered "sensitive" because officers who work there are often involved in undercover assignments. Other units housed at the facility include the Bureau of Organized Crime, SWAT Unit Evidence Technicians, and the CPD ballistics lab, he said.
"The allegation that physical violence is a part of interviews with suspects is unequivocally false, it is offensive, and it is not supported by any facts whatsoever," he said.
Earlier this month, about 200 people protested outside the building, calling for it to be shut down, after The Guardian reported on what it called an "off-the-books interrogation compound" and "the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site."