Brian Jacob Church, a protester, says he was held at the facility in Homan Square for nearly a day and denied access to an attorney. He was handcuffed to a bench for what he estimates to have been 17 hours and was never informed of his Miranda rights. By the end of his interrogation, Church was charged with terrorism-related offenses.
“Essentially, I wasn’t allowed to make any contact with anybody,” Church told the Guardian. He says that even after he asked to call a lawyer, police refused.
“Homan Square is definitely an unusual place,” Church said. “It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”
Those familiar with the compound list a range of abuses which have taken place. Police beatings and prolonged shackling are common practices, and the facilities location allows the interrogations to be done off the books.
Because suspects taken to Homan Square are not officially booked, there is no record of their location. Family members are left in the dark about their relative’s whereabouts.
After Church’s arrest, attorneys desperately scrambled to contact him, the Guardian reported. Even after 12 hours of intense searching, lawyers could find no trace of Church, and it was only after using connections through Mayor Emanuel’s office that they were able to learn of Homan Square.
Church was, at last, allowed to speak to an attorney, though only through a chain-link metal cage.
He, along with two co-defendants, were found not guilty of their terrorism charges.
Civil rights attorney Flint Taylor told the Guardian that while these practices may not be entirely surprising for the Chicago police – a department with a history of militant procedures – these practices violate both the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.
“This Homan Square revelation seems to be an institutionalization of the practice that dates back more than 40 years, of violating a suspect or witness’ rights to a lawyer and not to be physically or otherwise coerced into giving a statement,” Taylor said.
The Chicago police department has owned the warehouse since the late 1990’s, and several lawyers have described strange incidents in which their clients have disappeared for days, only to reemerge just as mysteriously. Even attorneys who knew about the Homan Square facility were frequently turned away when requesting to speak with clients.
“They just disappear, until they show up at a district for charging or are just released back out on the street,” criminal defense attorney Anthony Hill told the Guardian.
Many people have emerged from the interrogation facility with physical injuries. Eliza Solowiej, of Chicago’s First Defense Legal Aid, told the Guardian that one of her clients had his name changed by police in order to hide his whereabouts as he was taken to Homan Square. Solowiej found him in a local hospital with a head injury.
That’s if suspects make it out at all. In 2013, the Chicago Tribune reported that 44-year-old John Hubbard was found dead inside a Homan Square interrogation room. No records exist to even explain why Hubbard was in police custody.
Many police officials have expressed concern over such a facility. Richard Brzeczek, Chicago’s police superintendent during the early ‘80’s, said he had no first-hand knowledge of the civil rights abuses, and insisted that Homan Square “should be on the same list as every other facility” so that relatives and attorneys can ask if an individual is in custody.
“I’ve never known any kind of organized, secret place where they go and just hold somebody before booking,” retired Washington DC detective James Trainum told the Guardian. “That scares the hell out of me that that even exists or might exist.”
This is just the latest scandal for Chicago police. A separate Guardian investigation found that a former officer within the department was also involved in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay.
The revelation of the Homan Square site could be just the latest example of police militarization within departments across the United States. The kind of brutal tactics which were heavily criticized during the riots in Ferguson last August, also appear to be taking place behind closed doors.