Police Abuse in Chicago - Part II: Abuse Continues Under Detective Richard Zuley

 /  April 2, 2015, 9:35 a.m.


The same patterns of racism, militarization, and enablement present in the case of Detective Jon Burge are alive and well in the case of Richard Zuley. From 1977 to 2003, Detective Zuley used intimidation and trickery to force confessions from his suspects on the Chicago’s North Side. In 2003, he began working at Guantanamo Bay, where he became notorious for his brutal methods of psychological torture. After returning to Chicago in 2005, he worked as an instructor at the Chicago Police Terrorism Awareness and Response Academy until 2007. During his career, he sent at least one, probably several more, innocent individuals to jail.

In the case of Lathierial Boyd, who was a black male in his mid twenties, the unjust imprisonment lasted for twenty-three years. While investigating a murder in 1990, Detective Zuley took Boyd into custody, shackled his wrists and ankles, and searched his home. Upon returning from Boyd’s comfortably furnished house, he told Boyd, “no n****r is supposed to live like this.” Boyd went through two lineups, during which he was never picked out, but Zuley told him, “We’re charging you anyway.” Later, eyewitness Jennifer Bonanno recalled police pressure to pick Boyd out of the lineup, and she later testified that Zuley constantly asked her to “look again.” Moreover, Zuley consistently ignored the existence of exculpatory evidence that suggested Boyd’s innocence, including eyewitness testimony that identified the shooter as much shorter and darker skinned than Boyd. In 2003, after twenty-three years in prison, Boyd was released and cleared of all guilt. He is currently pressing charges against Zuley.

During the murder investigation of University of Chicago student Dana Feitler the year before, in 1989,  Lee Harris became involved as a police informant. Four men were known to have confronted and shot Feitler, and Harris was near the scene. Over the course of the summer investigation, Harris became more and more involved in the case, and Zuley often paid for Harris’ family’s hotel stays with his personal credit card. Suddenly, in October, Zuley charged Harris himself for the murder despite the unquestionable absence of any physical evidence. The basis for this accusation was the testimony of a single jailhouse informant who later retracted his claims but who initially stated that he had heard Harris bragging about the murder. Harris, who had begun to fear for the safety of his family before his arrest, claims he was never read his Miranda rights and both he and his lawyer are vehemently maintain that he never signed a confession forced upon him by officers. Harris remains in jail to this day, and as he notes, “Never have three or four black men killed an affluent white woman and they charge one and forget about the rest,” as it appears Zuley did.

Finally, in 1995, Zuley arrested Benita Johnson, cuffing her to a wall for twenty-four hours until she would confess her and her ex-boyfriend’s guiltiness of a recent murder. As she recalls, “He did a lot of threatening, hollering in my face, telling me I was gonna lose my kids, I wasn’t going to never get out of prison.” When she eventually gave way, she signed the confession without reading it. Zuley then arrested her ex-boyfriend, Andre Griggs, and left him shackled for thirty hours without medical attention while he experienced severe heroin withdrawal, despite his pleas for methadone. During the interrogation, Zuley threatened Griggs with the death penalty if he did not confess. Both Griggs and Johnson remain in jail on the strength of a green sweater found in Johnson’s mother’s house that Johnson claims Zuley planted as well as on the strength of these brutally extracted confessions. Griggs was sentenced to life while Johnson has parole eligibility in 2027.

Zuley’s ruthlessness in obtaining confessions, regardless of the truth, continued during his years at Guantanamo. Mohamedou Ould Slahi was taken there because he was suspected of involvement in coordinating the September 11 attacks. Zuley, who was put in charge of his interrogation, threatened to bring Slahi’s mother to Guantanamo’s “all-male environment” if he did not confess his guilt. Furthermore, he blindfolded Slahi and took him on a nighttime boat ride during which he was kicked, beaten and forced into a restraining jacket filled with ice. Zuley often threatened to kill Slahi, subjected him to extreme temperatures for extended periods of time, left him shackled in a cell without light, blasted loud music for hours on end, and offered him two choices: either “being a defendant or a witness.” Consequently, Slahi confessed to crimes he did not commit. He has never been charged, in part because investigators were unable to use any of his confessions in court. Because of the extreme conditions under which they were collected, the confessions are not considered credible.. Slahi remains in Guantanamo today, despite having been cleared for release in 2010. He is the first Guantanamo detainee to have published his diary, called Guantánamo Diary.

The similarities between Zuley’s careers in Chicago and in Guantanamo Bay suggest a disturbing blurring of the line between domestic and military policing. His reversal of the “innocent until proven guilty” assumption, which grounds the United States judicial system, as well as his threats towards his victims’ families, are startling in both cases. Yet, just as in the case of Detective Burge, all of the individuals surrounding him enabled the violence and injustice to endure. Detective Ricardo Abreu later admitted that while investigating Benita Johnson, the police never bothered to test the incriminating green sweater for her hair. At Lee Harris’s trial, the informant who claimed to have heard Harris confess to the murder testified that he had lied in order to be rewarded with better housing placement, yet this had no impact on the verdict. Even now, the Chicago Police Department fails to return the emails and phone calls of  journalists attempting to ask detailed questions about Zuley. The same enablement made possible Zuley’s work at Guantanamo Bay, where both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Geoffrey Miller personally signed off on Zuley’s interrogation regime for Slahi. Miller later had to retire from the army after calling upon his right against self-incrimination during an Abu-Ghraib torture trial. Meanwhile, Zuley still works at the Chicago Department of Aviation and is not returning any phone calls.

This is part II of an ongoing series. Part I can be found here

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Julian Duggan