36 Litig. 13 (2009-2010)
Truth or Consequences: Police Testilying

handle is hein.journals/laba36 and id is 151 raw text is: Truth or Consequences:
Police Testilying
by Jon Loevy

More lawyers are bringing more lawsuits against police offi-
cers than ever before. And more plaintiffs, it seems, are win-
ning bigger verdicts-often far bigger. The result is driving
the growth of a police misconduct civil rights bar, and this
article examines the changes in public perceptions of police
officers that have made that growth possible.
Who are they gonna believe-you or me? The year was
1982. The words were uttered by a now-infamous Chicago
Police Commander named Jon Burge, who had brought back
with him from the Vietnam War some controversial new inter-
rogation techniques, including electric shock torture.
The man to whom the question was posed was Andrew
Wilson, who had just been arrested for shooting and killing
two Chicago police officers in cold blood. In a locked police
interrogation room, Burge was trying to obtain a confession
by attaching metal clips to Wilson's ears and other body parts,
which were then charged with electricity. Wilson's bare skin
was also pressed against a hot radiator, and he was smothered
with a plastic bag.
At the time, Burge was a revered leader in the police depart-
ment and a decorated war veteran. Wilson was a barely liter-
ate African American gang member with a lengthy criminal
record. When Burge taunted Wilson with Who are they gonna
believe? Burge assumed he knew the answer.
It turned out that Burge was wrong. Though it took more
than a decade to do it, Wilson eventually won a civil lawsuit
alleging police torture-despite having been convicted of the
murders of the police officers. And now, some 28 years after
the fact, Burge is himself under federal indictment. The stat-
ute of limitations has long since run on the torture itself, but
prosecutors intend to prove that Burge lied in sworn discovery
responses submitted in a civil case wherein he denied torturing
Jon Loevy is with the civil rights law firm of Loevy & Loevy in Chicago,
Illinois.

LITIGATION Spring 2010

Wilson and numerous other African American men accused
of serious crimes. The Burge trial began in May 2010.
What changed? When I first started doing civil trials in
police abuse cases in the mid-1990s, plaintiffs' lawyers
would ask courts to give a jury instruction reminding jurors
that all persons stood equal before the law and that jurors
should thus not afford any more or any less credibility to state-
ments made by witnesses or parties simply because they were
police officers. In seeking that instruction, the plaintiffs' bar
was looking for a way to counteract a prevailing assumption
that the police were always right and should be believed.
Now, 15 years later, the lawyers for the police in Chicago
sometimes seek the same sort of instruction-that is, to remind
juries that the testimony of police officers deserves their fair
consideration as well and that such testimony should not be
automatically discounted just because they are police. Juror
perception has seemingly reversed itself.
From exalted to suspicious. Back in the proverbial old
days, police officers in our society were set on a pedestal.
Officers of the law could do no wrong. In old movies and our
grandparents' memories, the police were by definition always
the good guys, regardless of the context.
To be sure, police officers are still respected and held in high
esteem by most Americans, and rightfully so. They have a very
difficult job, and most perform it honorably and well within the
bounds of the law. In most communities, children are taught
that police officers are heroes who, along with fire fighters and
soldiers, are fighting a just fight on behalf of all of us.
But attitudes have changed, and unconditional deference
no longer exists. What the police say happened is no longer
accepted without question. This development has opened the
door to lawsuits that would not have been brought in the past.
And all of that assumes mainstream opinions. In some
minority communities, the rebuttable (or even irrebuttable)
presumption is that police officers are always lying.
13            Volume 36 Number 3

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