In a civil rights suit recently filed against the city of Chicago, John Vergara and Jose Garcia have alleged that masked police officers “knowingly and intentionally schemed and worked together in a common plan to falsely arrest, illegally detain, and physically abuse” them before they were released from Homan Square on September 29, 2011.
Johan and Jose were apprehended from Chicago’s Paseo Boricua Grocery & Deli, along with the Deli manager, Eddie Calderon, and two others and confined for nine hours at Homan Square, Chicago police department’s equivalent of a CIA black site.
John and Jose filed the suit claiming they were arrested without cause, charge, paperwork and access to an attorney by officers JV Dal Ponte, B Srisutch, PJ Nigro, and others on September 29, 2011. They seek punitive damages for false arrest, excessive force, failure to intervene, illegal search and civil conspiracy.
The lawsuit came a day after Chicago Congressman Danny Davis and Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin hand-delivered a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting a Justice Department investigation into Homan Square. Many former Homan Square detainees refused to speak up for fear of police retaliation; John and Jose were the first to break their silence.
“The innocent civilians brought to Homan Square were physically seized and essentially kidnapped by unidentified officers, placed in police vehicles, and driven to a then-secret location,” the suit read.
John and Jose told The Guardian that Homan Square was no ordinary cell: three sides of it were concrete and the fourth, containing a door, was made of metal-link fencing – reminiscent of the cages described by Homan Square arrestees Brock Terry and David Smith as well as former police superintendent Richard Brzeczek. The cage-like room had neither a toilet nor a sink, only a bench with a metal bar behind it.
John and Jose added that they were not booked, not charged there and not given a phone call. Handcuffed like a dog, the duo said that police did not inform them why they would be in Homan Square; instead the cops told the five of them, “If you guys don’t fess up, we’re gonna put all of this on you, we’re gonna split this up that we found, and we’re gonna put each and every one of you with a piece of this if you guys don’t talk.”
When John mentioned that he wanted to speak to Blake Horwitz, a well-known civil rights attorney who has pursued cases against Chicago police, a sergeant offered them a deal: “You don’t say nothing and we’ll leave it at that.”
The deal was struck. About an hour later, the cops uncuffed all five, and drove them back to the Deli. John, Jose and the other two went free. Calderon was, however, taken to Central Male Lockup on 26th Street and California Avenue and charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He later accepted a plea deal and served probation.
Homan Square’s existence was first brought to the public’s attention in February, when The Guardian began publishing a series on the alleged black site. The Chicago police continue to deny any misconduct at Homan Square, despite the first-hand accounts of 11 people thus far who have told The Guardian consistent stories of police holding them off-the-books at the facility for hours.
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