The US Department of Justice and embattled mayor Rahm Emanuel are under mounting pressure to investigate allegations of what one politician called “CIA or Gestapo tactics” at a secretive Chicago police facility exposed by the Guardian.
Politicians and civil-rights groups across the US expressed shock upon hearing descriptions of off-the-books interrogation at Homan Square, the Chicago warehouse that multiple lawyers and one shackled-up protester likened to a US counter-terrorist black site in a Guardian investigation published this week.
As three more people came forward detailing their stories of being “held hostage” and “strapped” inside Homan Square without access to an attorney or an official public record of their detention by Chicago police, officials and activists said the allegations merited further inquiry and risked aggravating wounds over community policing and race that have reached as high as the White House.
Caught in the swirl of questions around the complex – still active on Wednesday – was Emanuel, the former chief of staff to Barack Obama who is suddenly facing a mayoral runoff election after failing to win a majority in a contest that has seen debate over police tactics take a central role.
Emanuel’s office refused multiple requests for comment from the Guardian on Wednesday, referring a reporter to an unspecific denial from the Chicago police.
But Luis Gutiérrez, the influential Illinois congressman whose shifting support for Emanuel was expected to secure Tuesday’s election, joined a chorus of colleagues in asking for more information about Homan Square.
“I had not heard about the story until I read about it in the Guardian,” Gutiérrez said late Wednesday. “I want to get more information, but if the allegations are true, it sounds outrageous.”
Congressman Danny Davis, a Democrat who represents the Chicago west-side neighbourhood where Homan Square is located, said he was “terribly saddened” to hear of the allegations. Davis said he “would certainly strongly support an investigation” by the US Department of Justice, as two former senior justice department civil-rights officials urged the department on Wednesday to launch.
Earlier in the day, as a county commissioner urged the top law-enforcement investigators in the country to do the same, another reporter and photographer waited to accompany him on a visit outside the premises of Homan Square.
A man, in a jumpsuit and a ski mask, pulled out of the Homan Square parking lot in an SUV and made multiple circles before coming to a stop.
“You can take a picture,” said the man, who then offered what he considered a joke: “We are all CIA, right?”
‘Not in America’
Outside the red-brick Homan Square compound on Wednesday, a young mother ushered her two children to the sidewalk on West Fillmore Avenue. “I am at the police station,” she yelled into her phone, over traffic noise. “Can I call you back?”
The woman held her children close, shivering against the wind as plain-clothes officers and pedestrians scurried across the busy four-way intersection.
Until this week, the Cook County commissioner Richard Boykin only knew of the warehouse next-door – like the mother – as a police facility in a struggling Chicago neighbourhood.
“I hadn’t heard of the sort of CIA or Gestapo tactics that were mentioned in the Guardian article until it was brought to my attention,” Boykin said in an interview outside Homan Square. “And we are calling for the Department of Justice to open an investigation into these allegations.”
The Guardian reported on Tuesday that police in Chicago detain suspects at Homan Square without booking them, thereby preventing their relatives and lawyers from knowing their whereabouts, reminiscent in the eyes of some lawyers and civil-rights activists of a CIA black site.
While people are held at Homan Square, which lawyers described as a process that often lasted between 12 and 24 hours, several attorneys said they had been refused access to the facility, and described entrance to it as a rare occurrence. One man interviewed by the Guardian said that ahead of a Nato protest in 2012, he was handcuffed to a bar behind bench for 17 hours inside Homan Square and refused a phone call before police finally permitted him to see his attorney.
In an interview Wednesday, another Nato protester, Vic Suter, offered a similar account of close shackling and an estimated 18 hours without access to an attorney.
“You are just kind of held hostage,” Suter told the Guardian. “The inability to see a lawyer is a drastic departure from what we consider our constitutional rights. Not being able to have that phone call, the lack of booking, makes it so that when you’re there, you understand that no one knows where you are.”
A third person, Kory Wright, came forward to the Intercept in a story published Thursday. He described spending six hours at Homan Square without being booked or having access to a lawyer, as well as being zip-tied to a bench “like a cross”.
Wright’s friend, Deandre Hutcherson, told the Intercept that he, too, was held at the facility, without either of the men being read their Miranda rights.
Boykin, the county commissioner, looked up at the warehouse and said that a potential US justice department investigation would be “an extension of reform – making sure people’s basic rights are not violated but that they have opportunity to counsel”.
“It’s one thing to quell demonstration and protests,” Boykin said, “but it’s another thing to use antiquated Gestapo tactics that are more commonly found in parts of the underdeveloped world or in places like China or Russia.”
“Not in America.”
Obama’s task force on improving police relations in the wake of the shooting of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown six months ago in Ferguson, Missouri, was expected to release its first set of recommendations on community policing as soon as Monday. The third anniversary of the killing of unarmed teenager teenager Trayvon Martin is Thursday, two days after a Department of Justice civil-rights investigation brought no charges against George Zimmerman, the neighbourhood watchman who shot him dead.