A new investigation by The Guardian found the Chicago police department operates an unofficial interrogation compound out of a warehouse on the city’s west side, in an area known as Homan Square.
Lawyers and experts say the warehouse is the equivalent of a CIA black site. People, some as young as 15, are held there without legal counsel for as long as 24 hours.
People who are taken to Homan Square aren’t booked on record like they would be in a police precinct. Detainees are allegedly held in metal cages, most lawyers are denied entry, and authorities are secretive about what happens at Homan Square.
“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” Chicago lawyer Julia Bartmes told The Guardian.
Homan Square has been involved with high-profile drug busts and anti-terrorism work. When The Guardian’s story was published, Chicago police defended the facility as a “sensitive” location.
“CPD [Chicago police department] abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility. If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them. It also houses CPD’s Evidence Recovered Property Section, where the public is able to claim inventoried property,” the statement read.
Critics claim abuse is common at the site.
Brian Jacob Church was taken to Homan Square in 2012 for protesting a NATO summit, but at Homan Square he was handcuffed to a bench for 17 hours, interrogated and explicitly denied the right to call a lawyer.
“Essentially, I wasn’t allowed to make any contact with anybody,” Church said. “I had essentially figured, ‘All right, well, they disappeared us and so we’re probably never going to see the light of day again.’”
When he was allowed to contact a lawyer, he was only allowed to speak to him through a chain-link metal cage. “It’s almost like they throw a black bag over your head and make you disappear for a day or two,” Church said.
Three attorneys told The Guardian about being turned away from Homan Square between 2009 and 2013. Church’s lawyer, Sarah Gelsomino, who was unable to meet him in the facility, could not locate him for 12 hours after he was arrested. She only learned about Homan Square after making a “major stink” with higher ups, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
One man, who wishes to remain anonymous, was detained at Homan Square in January 2013. He had his name changed in the Chicago central bookings database before he was taken to the warehouse. There was no record of his transfer, Eliza Solowiej, of Chicago’s First Defense Legal Aid, told The Guardian. Although his current attorney did not comment on Solowiej’s allegations, Solowiej claimed she only found her then-client after he was taken to the hospital with a head injury - apparently inflicted at Homan Square.
“He said that the officers caused his head injuries in an interrogation room at Homan Square," Solowiej. "I had been looking for him for six to eight hours, and every department member I talked to said they had never heard of him. He sent me a phone pic of his head injuries because I had seen him in a police station right before he was transferred to Homan Square without any.”
In February 2013, John Hubbard was taken to Homan Square, but he wasn’t as lucky as others. He was found “unresponsive inside an interview room,” and pronounced dead, according to The Chicago Tribune. Hubbard’s death was attributed to heroin.
Many experts are worried about what happens behind closed doors because the facility blurs the line between the police and military operations.
“The real danger in allowing practices like Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib is the fact that they always creep into other aspects,” said Tracy Siska, a criminologist and civil-rights activist with the Chicago Justice Project. “They creep into domestic law enforcement, either with weaponry like with the militarization of police, or interrogation practices. That’s how we ended up with a black site in Chicago.”