Civil Rights & Police Accountability Clinic—Significant Achievements for 2021-22

Students have built upon the outstanding work of generations of past Clinic students to win a series of landmark victories this year. None was more remarkable than all that our students did to cap off more than 20 years of advocacy to end incommunicado detention and make the promise of Miranda a reality in Chicago—ironically in the same year that the United States Supreme Court ruled that Miranda is now something less than a constitutional rule. When we launched the Clinic 22 years ago, we identified the lack of access to counsel to people barricaded behind the walls of Chicago police stations subject to CPD interrogation and vulnerable to police abuse as one of the greatest barriers to police accountability. When we started the Clinic, Chicago had been the home to decades of police torture of Black people, including Area Two Headquarters that had become known as the “House of Screams” and black sites like the Homan Square police station, where CPD hid people off-the-books for abusive interrogations. As a result of CPD’s practice of incommunicado detention, it had earned the moniker as the false confession and wrongful conviction capital of the United States. By far. Soon after the launch of the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Clinic, we fought for justice alongside a young man who was forced to give a false videotaped confession to the murder of his own mother—after 50 hours of CPD interrogation and abuse. It was the first videotaped confession in the nation that was proven to be demonstrably false. While his case led to a series of nation-wide reforms based on the newfound awareness of the reality of the phenomenon of false confessions, incommunicado interrogation in Chicago continued unabated. Miranda’s promise of free access to counsel to all who cannot afford to hire lawyers remained a distant dream. We brought a series of successful civil rights cases over the years that resulted in an injunction that required Chicago police to permit counsel to see their clients and a consent decree that requires police to affirmatively inform people that CPD had been detaining as so-called “witnesses” in locked interrogation rooms, often for 48 hours or more, that they are free to leave whenever they want. Despite these victories, Chicago police found new ways to deny people access to even a phone call. Even after our successful advocacy alongside community partners led to an Administrative Order by the Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court appointing the Cook County Public Defender whenever a person in CPD custody requests a lawyer and the creation of a special unit within the Public Defender’s Office that made lawyers available 24 hours a day 7 days a week to represent indigent people in police custody, CPD found ways to prevent people from accessing counsel in far more than 99% of its arrests. In 2020 and 2021, more than 50% of people arrested for murder were never even given the opportunity to make a phone call.

Until today. In the summer of 2020, in the midst of police violence against and incommunicado detention of young people who were lifting their voices in protest against police killings of Black people, the Clinic filed a creative mandamus action in Illinois state court to enforce a law that required police to give people in custody prompt access to a phone and counsel. The Illinois law, while strong on its face, lacked any remedy or means of enforcement. Just as our Clinic had secured a federal consent decree over the Chicago Police Department in 2019 to redress the Department’s pattern and practice of civil rights violations, we have reached an agreement in principle on a second consent decree, this one in state court, to resolve our innovative mandamus action to end incommunicado detention in Chicago. After 56 years since Miranda was first decided, 22 years since launching the Clinic, and 20 years since we fought to free the young man falsely accused of killing his own mother, we are finally about to make Miranda real in Chicago. Under the new Consent Decree, the Chicago Police Department must:

  • Install phones and put up signs with the Public Defender’s free 24-hour hotline in every interrogation room;
  • Provide private and confidential rooms in every police station in Chicago for people to call and meet with their lawyers;
  • Guarantee every person in CPD custody with access to those phones “as soon as possible,” and in no event longer than 3 hours after being taken into custody;
  • Give each person under arrest at least 3 phone calls in the first 3 hours of custody and an additional 3 calls each and every time they are moved;
  • Prohibit police officers from interrogating people in custody until they have had the opportunity to access a phone and lawyer; and
  • Provide the Clinic with data about every single arrest in Chicago for at least the next 2 years to allow the Clinic to monitor and enforce the Decree.

By ensuring that every person held in the bowels of Chicago police stations has prompt access to an attorney, the Clinic will make it very difficult for CPD to coerce false confessions from desperate people. Someone will be watching.

The Clinic also made a series of historic changes under the federal civil rights consent decree over the Chicago Police Department. First, we fundamentally transformed CPD’s policies on the use of force. Building on last year’s success of the Community Use of Force Working Group, CPD’s force policies now prioritize the sanctity of all human life; require officers to de-escalate situations to avoid the need for any force; prohibit the use of any force unless necessary; and restrict the amount of force to the least amount necessary under the circumstances. CPD officers can now be held accountable if they fail to de-escalate a situation or fail to engage in tactics to avoid the need for any force. Officers can also be held accountable when their decisions and actions lead to violence that could otherwise have been avoided, and when they use force when it is not absolutely necessary to do so.

Second, we achieved similar transformative changes to CPD’s First Amendment policy. The new policy establishes that CPD’s primary function at any First Amendment protest, demonstration, or assembly is to protect the rights of people engaging in protest and other First Amendment activities. Under the policy, CPD officers are prohibited from any form of interference with or retaliation against people exercising their rights to free speech and assembly. Based on the abuses that we saw in the summer 2020 protests, officers are now prohibited from arresting people engaged in protest unless they pose an immediate threat to another person’s physical safety or property. And police violence, such as the use of dogs to attack protesters and chemical sprays to disrupt demonstrations, is now expressly prohibited.

Third, after countless deaths and serious injuries resulting from dangerous and unnecessary foot pursuits, the Clinic forced the CPD to finally implement a formal foot pursuit policy. While the policy remains in need of further reform, it expressly recognizes the inherent risks to community safety in foot pursuits and prohibits any pursuit whenever the risk of harm outweighs the benefits. If such a policy had been in effect, children like Adam Toledo and young people like Anthony Alvarez would still be alive.

The Clinic continues its advocacy to put an end to CPD’s practice of targeting Black and Brown family homes for violent raids—raids that routinely involve officers bursting into people’s homes in the dead of night and pointing long assault rifles at young children, leaving a wake of trauma. The Clinic’s enforcement motion in federal court led to a court order that placed CPD’s search warrant practices and home raids squarely under the Consent Decree. Having secured the order, our federal court and legislative advocacy falls into four buckets: (1) Harm Mitigation and Reduction; (2) Protecting children and other vulnerable people; (3) Repairing harm; and (4) Transparency and accountability. Our fight continues.

Notwithstanding our success in challenging systemic practices, the Clinic’s commitment to representing individual clients in need has not waned. In the Spring, we won what may be our most important victory of the year alongside our client, Corey Batchelor. When he was just 19-years-old, a group of Chicago police detectives snatched Corey from a neighborhood park where he had been playing with his friends, put him in the back of a police car, and drove him to CPD Area 2 Headquarters’ “House of Screams” where the abuse of Corey and the torture of so many other young Black men took place. The Detectives who had trained under disgraced CPD Commander Jon Burge coerced this self-described “square little kid” with no prior experience with the police into falsely confessing to the robbery and murder of the wife of a retired Chicago police sergeant. Instead of leaving home for college, Corey was forced to spend the next 15 years of his life locked in a prison cell, before being exonerated by DNA evidence. Even after he was released from prison, Corey was never able to break free from his chains of incarceration and the harm that they continue to inflict.

Together we won the single largest wrongful conviction settlement per year of incarceration in Chicago history. We met with Corey for more than three hours on the day that we finalized the settlement. Perhaps for the first time since he was that “square little kid.” Corey began to set goals and imagine a future over which he had real agency—the first time that he began to imagine being free.

In addition to the Clinic’s poignant work with Corey Batchelor, we litigated a case on behalf of Charles Green, another wrongly convicted man who was forced to confess to a terrible crime that he did not commit, before the Illinois Supreme Court. As a part of Mr. Green’s fight to clear his name, building upon the Clinic’s previous victories that established the legal precedent in Illinois that records that relate to complaints of police misconduct belong to the people, he filed a Freedom of Information request seeking every investigation into Chicago police misconduct dating back to 1967. The Clinic persuaded the Illinois Supreme Court to accept his case and completed briefing and arguing the case in Springfield in late spring. We expect a ruling in the fall. If we succeed, Mr. Green and the Clinic will create a publicly searchable archive of every police misconduct file for the past half century. People including people in prison, people whose civil rights have been violated, researchers, journalists, policymakers, and community members have already been using the Chicago police misconduct data that we have made publicly available to win their freedom, redress constitutional violations, identify and address patterns of police abuse, inform the governmental investigations into CPD civil rights abuses, inform policy, challenge institutional denial and secrecy, and make real the ideal of democratic governance in which people have the right and means to be informed of the workings of our government and the ability to hold governmental institutions accountable to the citizenry. The Green archive would release tens of thousands of first-person narratives of abuse and governmental investigations into those abuses. Nothing comparable has ever existed in the United States.

Two final achievements by the Clinic deserve mention. The Clinic’s advocacy alongside people who have been most impacted by police abuse in Chicago resulted in the enactment of an ordinance that will create a community body with the power to oversee the Chicago Police Department—community oversight in Chicago. Without a doubt, the city ordinance remains fundamentally flawed as final authority over the constitution and most powers of the community body reside with the Mayor, rather than the people. However, the community oversight entity will have the power to make police policy, hold public hearings, play a leading role in the selection and supervision of the Superintendent of Police and the head of the City agency responsible for investigating police misconduct, and promote transparency.

Finally, two Clinic students played a critical role with Professor Futterman, as a Senate confirmed member of the Illinois Task Force on Constitutional Rights and Remedies. Clinic students researched and presented testimony before the Legislative Task Force on the impact that the federal doctrine of qualified immunity has played in Illinois with respect to access to justice. The students demonstrated that qualified immunity has been and continues to be an insurmountable bar to justice to Illinois citizens who have suffered constitutional wrongs at the hands of the police and other public employees. We recommended that the Illinois General Assembly should enact legislation that provides a direct cause of action, without any defense of qualified immunity, to people whose rights under the Illinois Constitution are violated by public employees, such as members of law enforcement.