As Chicago Pays Victims of Past Torture, Police Face New Allegations of Abuse at Homan Square

May 15, 2015
Image Credit: The Guardian

More victims have come forward to detail recent abuse inside Homan Square, a secret compound used by Chicago police for incommunicado interrogations and detentions which some have described as the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site overseas. Exclusive video obtained by The Guardian shows a Chicago man named Angel Perez being taken inside a "prisoner entrance." Perez says police handcuffed his right wrist to a metal bar and then sexually assaulted him with a metal object, believed to be a handgun barrel. Perez says the officers also threatened to "go after" his family members, including his father who is battling cancer. Perez is now the 13th person to describe his detainment at the secret police site to The Guardian. Like many detainees, he apparently was never formally arrested — neither booked, nor permitted access to an attorney, nor charged. Now, Perez and four others have filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department. We are joined by the reporter who broke the Homan Square story, Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: More details have come to light about a secret compound used by Chicago police for incommunicado interrogations and detentions. The Guardian first reported on the Homan Square facility earlier this year. Some have described it as the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site overseas.

Now The Guardian has obtained exclusive video from inside the site. The footage shows a Chicago man named Angel Perez being taken inside a, quote, "prisoner entrance." In 2012, Chicago police sought to compel the 33-year-old Perez to cooperate with a drug sting. After agreeing to meet with police officers, Perez was handcuffed and taken to Homan Square. What happened next may be disturbing to many in our audience.

Angel Perez says police handcuffed his right wrist to a metal bar behind a bench in an interrogation room. Two officers stood behind him and reportedly threatened to send him to the infamously violent Cook County Jail if he didn’t cooperate. Then, Perez says, one of the officers proceeded to sexually assault him with a metal object, believed to be a handgun barrel.

ANGEL PEREZ: He’s saying that, you know, when you’re in jail and you get penetrated by an African American, that it feels just like a gun going up your rear end. While he’s doing all this, he ends up pulling down my pants, and he gets near my rear end, I guess you can say, and that’s when I just felt something cold and hard just, I guess, penetrate me. And that’s when I just jerked, and I freaked out, and I just went into full panic attack. I couldn’t even talk.

AMY GOODMAN: Angel Perez went on to describe what happened.

ANGEL PEREZ: They shackled my my legs, and they handcuffed me to the bar and the bench that was there. When this happened, I was already pretty shaken up. My eyes were watering. He kind of pushed me over the metal pile and pushed his hands into my eyes while he was sitting on me. And he was like, "You know, you better learn to [bleep] cooperate." They were playing tug of war with me, too. And they were kind of throwing fake punches at me so I would hit myself, like, you know, when I flinched, I would hit the back of my head.

AMY GOODMAN: Angel Perez says the officers also threatened to also "go after" his family members, including his father who’s battling cancer. Angel Perez is now the 13th person to describe his detainment at the secret police site in Chicago to The Guardian. Like many prisoners, he apparently was never formally arrested, so he was neither booked, nor permitted access to an attorney, nor charged. Now Angel Perez and four others have filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department seeking justice from the city.

For more on Homan Square, we’re joined now by Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian, where he has published a new article on police abuse in Chicago called "Homan Square Detainee: I was Sexually Abused by Police at Chicago 'Black Site'" We’ll link to that at

Spencer Ackerman, welcome to Democracy Now! So tell us more about Angel Perez.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: So, this all happened, allegedly—and let’s say "allegedly" upfront; these are allegations from Angel Perez—so we’re not, you know, consistently using that word throughout and interrupting what the story is.

On October 21st, 2012, police, who had already contacted Perez the day before, sought to have him help them buy drugs in a controlled operation for a dealer that they believed Perez knew, who they had been monitoring. He went under his own free will to an agreed-upon meeting place, thinking that they would just basically have a quick conversation. They had asked him to get there to make sure, in their words, according to Perez, that his car wasn’t impounded. When he goes there, as surveillance camera footage from outside that lot that we’ve obtained and published shows, he extends his hand to the officers. He tries to go for a handshake. They turn him around on the car, they handcuff him, and they take him to Homan Square.

The video footage that we’ve published is, if not the first, extremely rare, footage from inside the facility that appear to show a more routinized detention operations apparatus than the Chicago police have said publicly in response to our reporting.

From there, when Perez demonstrates his reluctance to cooperate—he’s afraid, he doesn’t really want to be wrapped up in all of this, he’s worried about retaliation—the police start escalating things. According to Perez, they’re talking a lot about retaliation not just against him, but against his family, ways that they’ll plant evidence, not just on him, but on his family. They start getting, according to Perez, violent. One officer sits on his chest, starts pressing his palms into Perez’s eyes. He describes himself as experiencing this kind of aggression for the first time in his life. He’s freaked out. He’s panicking. They bend him over what he describes as metal detritus in the room near where he’s handcuffed, and they pull down his pants. They use a metal object. He says he feels the coldness and metallic aspect of it as they start tracing it down his back and saying some really vulgar and very racist things, in his telling, about what’s going to happen to him when African-American inmates in a jail in Cook County get a hold of him. They start saying that—if you’ll excuse the language—that he’s going to feel really like a "sexy bitch." So they’re really using a lot of sexualized and homophobic insults at him as they’re doing this, again, according to Perez, at which point one of the officers allegedly uses this metal object to rectally penetrate him. He says it happens very quickly.

And afterwards, he immediately agreed to do whatever the police wanted him to do—in this case, make a controlled buy of $170 worth of heroin. That is one of the most shocking aspects, I think, of this case, that all of this happened not just for a man who police were not looking at, who never charged—who they never charged, who wasn’t implicated in the crime itself—and that would be no excuse, of course, even if he was, but nevertheless as a peripheral figure here, in order to compel him to make a $170 controlled purchase of heroin.

AMY GOODMAN: And the officer, he said, said to him, as he did that, "I almost blew your brains out."

SPENCER ACKERMAN: That’s right, leading—leading Angel Perez to think that the object used to penetrate him was the barrel of a service revolver, of a gun.

AMY GOODMAN: So what is Angel Perez doing right now? He actually had filed a suit and now has refiled?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: So, in 2013, Perez filed his lawsuit initially, making the claim of the sexual abuse. What he didn’t know at that point, and would only come out later, was that all of this happened at Homan Square, the warehouse on Chicago’s West Side, home to Chicago narcotics units and some tactical units, that—

AMY GOODMAN: He didn’t know, because he just didn’t know its name?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: He didn’t know, because he was, in his telling, jostled in the car. Where he was going, he couldn’t really see. The cops were doing a kind of—a kind of wild ride. It sounded, in some cases, because he wasn’t shackled in, although it wasn’t a van, somewhat similar to the rough rides we’ve now heard about with Freddie Gray in Baltimore and other places. He wasn’t hurt during that ride nevertheless. He had also been taken to an actual police station nearby Homan Square at Harrison and Kedzie. So, initially, he just assumed he was back there. But they take him to this warehouse. They go through a kind of warren of different rooms, until he’s taken to the second floor at Homan and this happened to him.

AMY GOODMAN: And again, for people who are just hearing about this for the first time—


AMY GOODMAN: —it has become a big issue since The Guardian started exposing it, even before the re-election of Rahm Emanuel—Homan Square is?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Homan Square is a warehouse complex on Chicago’s West Side. It’s a secretive, but, as the Chicago police will like to point out ad nauseam, not secret, complex, where a lot of plainclothes operations happen. The vice squad is out of there. The narcotics unit is out of there. And it’s a place where we now have accounts from 17 people, 13 of whom I have personally interviewed, who, between 2005 and 2015, have been taken there, held incommunicado, meaning there’s no contemporaneously available to the public record of their whereabouts—no one knows where they are, in other words—hours shackled with no access to legal counsel, often while police try and pressure them in order to either become informants, provide them with drugs and, increasingly, from the stories that we’ve accumulated, provide them with guns.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to two other men who are now suing the city of Chicago after being detained at Homan Square. This is Jose Garcia.

JOSE GARCIA: Took us in the building. And when you hear them say, "Dead man walking," and you hear doors closing, I mean, your hairs just stand up. You know, I mean, what are you going to do? You know, you’re thinking you’re going to get beat up. You know, so we were just scared.

AMY GOODMAN: Another plaintiff, John Vergara, describes the conditions of his confinement at Homan Square.

JOHN VERGARA: It kind of looks like a cage for a dog. It’s just a bench, with a bar on the wall, no toilet, no sink, no nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk more about this, Spencer Ackerman.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: So, John and [Jose] have described, in their case, being at a sandwich shop in Chicago a couple years ago, when masked police busted in and arrested both customers there, arrested kitchen staff there, took them to Homan Square, tried to, again, shake them down as they’re all shackled, some of them shackled to each other and then shackled to a bar in this sort of cage-like holding area, in order to see about a narcotics arrest.

In the case of John Vergara and Jose Garcia, John Vergara starts saying to the officers that he knows a civil rights attorney, and he’s going to contact that attorney and let people know what’s happening inside Homan Square. The cops made a deal with him. They say, "We will let you out"—this is after several hours of being detained and not being able to access, you know, phone—being denied phone calls, not being able to call their families, not being able to call their lawyers, anyone. And then, ultimately, the cops make a deal with him, and they say, "If you don’t tell this lawyer or anyone else, we’ll let you go right now." And that’s ultimately what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: And as one of them says, "Dead man walking," they say?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: "Dead man walking." A lot of intimidation moves by police to make people feel like they’re entirely under the control of their police captors.

AMY GOODMAN: And lest anyone think we’re talking about decades ago, though that is extremely significant today, can you tell us a story of Calvin Coffey that happened a couple months ago?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: So just in February, basically, less than three weeks before we published our first story from inside Homan Square, according to the lawsuit that he joined, which Angel Perez recently refiled, he was picked up for narcotics or for some sort of—it’s unclear—drugs delivery issue. But he’s just picked up off the street. He’s taken to Homan Square. He’s confined for a long period of time without a bathroom break. He ultimately, while he’s held there for a long period of time, has to answer a call of nature, defecates on the floor of where he’s shackled. Police allegedly make him clean up his own feces with his skull cap.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Victoria Suter, who traveled to Chicago on May 12, 2012, to attend the big anti-NATO protest. On May 16, she and 11 others were taken to Homan Square in Chicago after police raided the apartment where they were staying. Suter spent 18 hours in solitary confinement before being allowed to speak to a lawyer. Earlier this year, she described her experience on Democracy Now!

VICTORIA SUTER: When we arrived there, it was dark. I couldn’t see the outside of the building. But we went in through a garage. There were really large, like military vehicles. They were black, just absolutely massive. There was—one of the other people arrested in that raid with me, they took him in first and left me outside with another officer, and then they took me inside. I was taken to a room, not particularly big, no windows. They put ankle shackles on me at that point and cuffed my right arm to a bar that ran behind the bench, where I stayed for 18 hours prior to being able to see an attorney.

AMY GOODMAN: Victoria Suter also said an officer told her, quote, "We’re going to give you a tour of hell on Homan." You can see the whole interview at Finally, Spencer?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: With Angel Perez, there’s a legacy here of not just police abuse, but sexualized police abuse in Chicago. Darrell Cannon, a man who in 1983 was coerced into falsely confessing for a murder that would have landed him on—that landed him on death row and would have had him be executed, if Illinois’s governor, George Ryan, hadn’t cleared out death row, had a gun, a shotgun barrel shoved in his mouth. It was empty, but police pulled the trigger three times. That got him to falsely confess to a murder. It sounded very reminiscent to me of what Angel Perez went through, again, allegedly, in 2012. So, over—basically, three decades later, this continued.

AMY GOODMAN: And in just a minute, we’re going to have Darrell Cannon join us live from Chicago. Finally, the Chicago police continuing to insist they do not use violence with interrogations, though they have admitted Homan Square exists?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: They’ve admitted Homan Square exists. They continue their nonspecific denials. And now, at this point, they don’t even respond to my questions when I ask them. They don’t even acknowledge receipt of my emails. But in a supposed fact sheet that they put out on March 1st to attempt to refute some of my reporting, they took great umbrage at the suggestion that anyone would be physically abused. They acted as if that has never happened in Chicago, that there’s no history there, there’s no legacy there.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to talk about a multimillion-dollar fund that the mayor and others have set up to deal with police torture in Chicago. Spencer Ackerman, thanks so much for being with us, national security editor at The Guardian, where he’s published a new article on police abuse in Chicago called "Homan Square Detainee: I was Sexually Abused by Police at Chicago 'Black Site'" We’ll link to that at We’ll be back in Chicago in a moment.

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