A man who asserts he confessed to murder after being tortured by Chicago police officers under the watch of former Cmdr. Jon Burge will not be given a second chance to litigate his case after a federal appeals panel determined his 1988 decision to settle his claims for $3,000 prevents him from doing so.
In a 50-page opinion handed down May 27, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal court ruling that found Darrell Cannon's nearly three-decade-old settlement precludes him from pursuing litigation alleging he wouldn't have settled had he known about the extent of the police torture scandal back then.
Even though the ruling went against Cannon, the panel appeared to be sympathetic as it detailed how his case "casts a pall of shame over the city," and on the police officers who abused their power, a judge who accepted bribes to fix cases and on city officials for turning "a blind eye to (and in some instances actively concealed) the claims of scores of African-American men that they were being bizarrely and horrifically abused at Area 2."
"This appeal casts a harsh light on some of the darkest corners of life in Chicago," Judge Ilana Rovner wrote for the Seventh Circuit. "It is difficult to conceive of a just outcome given the appalling actions by almost everyone associated with these events."
Cannon was convicted of a 1971 murder and then arrested and sentenced for a 1983 murder he asserts he did not commit while he was out on parole for the first.
A former general of the El Rukn gang, Cannon contends he was driving a car on Oct. 26, 1983, when another gang member murdered Darin Ross in the back seat. Cannon maintains he was innocent of the murder, but helped dispose of the body.
He was arrested days later, at which point he claims police forced him to confess to the murder after being threatened and tortured. Each time he thought he was safe from his tormentors, the opinion notes he would recant his confession only to face more torture.
Following his 1984 trial, in which he sought to suppress his confession on the basis of torture, he was convicted for the second murder and served more than two decades behind bars before being released.
In 1986, two years after his conviction, Cannon filed a pro se suit against the City of Chicago and a number of its employees and police officers, alleging he was beaten and tortured in order for detectives to extract a confession from him.
Cannon in 1988 settled his case for $3,000 on the advice of his court-appointed attorney, who noted his chances were slim given his previous murder conviction, lack of evidence to corroborate his claims and the police officers' repeated denials of his allegations.
After costs and fees, Cannon received $1247.70 from the settlement, which also required him to sign "a broadly worded release of his claims against the named defendants as well as the City of Chicago," the panel's recent opinion notes.
While all of this was happening, Cannon appealed his conviction. Although his motion to suppress his confession was denied, his case was remanded for a hearing on a juror issue.
A new trial was subsequently ordered and Cannon was again convicted of the murder after the court declined to revisit his confession argument. He appealed again and the court vacated his conviction and remanded for a hearing on his coerced confession claims.
After the court heard his renewed motion to suppress his confession in 2011, Cannon agreed to plead guilty to armed violence and conspiracy to commit murder in exchange for a 40-year sentence. He faced some issues with the parole board, but was eventually released after serving more than 20 years for a murder he contends he didn't commit.
Following the state's 2005 dismissal of the murder case, Cannon sued the city, the officers he claims tortured him and city employees accused of covering up the police torture scandal.
Among others, his suit included federal counts alleging deprivation of the right to a fair trial, false imprisonment, torture and coercive interrogation, as well as state law counts for malicious prosecution, conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
One of the defendants named in Cannon's suit was Burge, a man whose name, Rovner said, "evokes shame and disgust in the City of Chicago."
Rovner cited Burge's 20-year career in the department, which included the position as a commander of Area 2's Violent Crimes Unit and ended in 1993 when he was fired for torturing and abusing suspects to obtain confessions from black arrestees.
More than 100 arrestees accused Burge of using "sadistic tactics" in his interrogations, the panel's opinion notes, adding that he was later convicted on obstruction of justice and perjury charge stemming from lies he told during civil lawsuits over police torture.
Cannon alleged Burge and other police officers lied under oath to the department's Office of Professional Standards and essentially forced him to negotiate his 1988 settlement under the false position of having been convicted for a murder he did not commit.
Despite the circumstances surrounding the scandal and what Cannon went through, Rovner explained his suit can't proceed on the basis of his 1988 settlement.
"[T]he law regarding the finality of settlements governs the result: Cannon brought his suit against those who abused him and settled it knowing full well that those defendants were lying," she wrote. "He has no evidence that, at the time he decided to settle, the City knew about and purposefully concealed a broader scandal in order to induce him to settle."
Rovner added, "He signed a broad release precluding him from bringing further claims arising from the same set of facts against any of the City Defendants. Final judgments are final for a reason. Cannon failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact on any theory that would relieve him of the preclusive effect of the first judgment."
Rovner was joined in the opinion by Judges Kenneth F. Ripple and Sarah Evans Barker of the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana, who sat on the panel by designation.