Chicago’s “Black Site” Detainees Speak Out

People held at Homan Square describe being hit and bound for hours in an intentionally overheated room.

Scott Olson

On Tuesday, The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman reported on the “equivalent of a CIA black site” operated by police in Chicago. When computer program analyst Kory Wright opened the story, he told me, “I immediately recognized the building” — because, the Chicago resident says, he was zip-tied to a bench there for hours in an intentionally overheated room without access to water or a bathroom, eventually giving false statements to try and end his ordeal.

A friend of Wright’s swept up in the same police raid described his own brutal treatment at the facility, known as Homan Square, including attacks to his face and genitals. The experiences of the two men line up with the way defense attorneys described the “black site” warehouse to Ackerman: as a place where detainees were held off the books, without access to lawyers, while being beaten or shackled for long periods of time.

Wright claims that nearly 10 years ago, he spent “at least six [brutal] hours” at the Homan facility on his 20th birthday. He says that he was never read his Miranda rights, and that his arrest was not put into the police system until after his ordeal was over. Wright was reminded of the facility again this week when he noticed a tweet from a writer he admires, The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, linking to Ackerman’s story. Ackerman compared Homan Square to the network of shadowy torture centers built by the CIA across the Middle East — but focused “on Americans, most often poor, black and brown,” rather than on purported overseas terrorists.

Another way Homan Square differed from CIA black sites was that the facility wasn’t a completely furtive enterprise. Several lawyers and anti-police brutality advocates with whom I spoke knew that suspects were routinely detained at Homan. The facility houses many of the police department’s special units, including the anti-gang and anti-drug task forces, along with the evidence-retrieval unit. Once suspects arrived at Homan, they did not have to be booked immediately, at least not as far as the police department was concerned, according to the people with whom I spoke. In fact, it was possible that a suspect’s arrest report wouldn’t show that he or she had ever been to Homan. Further, police could detain individuals at Homan for hours, or disappear them, before shipping them off to a district station for processing.

The Chicago Police Department declined to address the specific allegations from Wright and his friend, providing only a general statement denying abuses at Homan Square. (The same statement also appears in Ackerman’s story.) “CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility,” the statement read. “There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is not any different at Homan Square.”

Kory Wright disagrees.

It was late on the hot morning of June 29, 2005 — Kory Wright’s 20th birthday — when he set out for the North Lawndale residence of a relative, a short walk from his own. “I know they got a lot of connections over there, and he said I can get my hair braided, so I came over and I was getting my hair braided,” Wright says. He says this relative sold crack cocaine, and that his mother had warned him prior to June 29 to keep his distance, but “you know, they good people.”

Kory Wright about one month before his detention at Homan Square.

As Wright was having his hair braided on the porch, “a nice clean lady comes and asks to buy some drugs.” According to Wright, the woman “had a fifty [dollar bill]. And I exchanged the fifty. I gave her the change and then she completed her transaction with my [relative].”

Wright claims the drug-buyer was an undercover cop, and that the entire transaction was recorded by Chicago police, because two or three minutes after the drug deal, officers in plain clothes swarmed the house and detained Wright, two of his relatives, and one of his friends, Deandre Hutcherson. “They searched us first and then they took us all down to that one place I’m talking about,” Wright says, referring to the Homan interrogation site. Wright and Hutcherson both insist the police never read them their Miranda rights. 

“When we first got to that place, we went in a garage and they walked us up the stairs,” he says. Phone calls to counsel and family were denied, Wright and Hutcherson say, while no fingerprints were taken, and no paperwork was filled out — which means there was no evidence they were ever there. “I tried to tell them it was my birthday,” he says, “and I think I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He [a Chicago police officer] got the nerve to go get his friend, and they, like, sung happy birthday.” Wright believes the virulent police officers were taunting him. “I see it [Homan] everyday. I shudder,” says Wright, whose neighborhood was just south of the facility.

The four men were split up and placed in small, separate rooms that were the size of office cubicles. It was a steamy summer day, and Wright was sweating profusely at Homan; he believes the police either turned the heat on, or turned the air conditioning off, to sweat him out. “When we first got in there it was room-temperature, and before he [a Chicago police officer] left, he was like, ‘It’s gon’ get a little hot in here,’” says Hutcherson, now 29.

For six hours, a sweaty Wright sat zip-tied to a bench with no access to a restroom, a telephone or water. “They strapped me — like across, kind of — to a bench, and my hands were strapped on both sides of me,” he says. “I can’t even scratch my face.” When Wright first arrived at Homan, he was left alone for a while in the hot room. Wright asked the police if he could call his mother, but instead, various police officers came “in and out. They were badgering me with questions. ‘Tell me about this murder!’” one officer shouted. Wright provided his interrogator with false information and names, with the hope of making it stop. He told me he was “trying to get out of the situation and give them something they wanted.”

Meanwhile, Hutcherson — also shackled to a bench — was being interrogated in another room. “He [a Chicago police officer] gets up, walking toward me,” Hutcherson alleges. “I already know what’s finna happen. I brace myself, and he hit me a little bit and then take his foot and stepped on my groin.” According to Hutcherson, the officer struck him two or three times in the face before kicking his penis.

“You must think I’m a fucking idiot,” Hutcherson says his attacker told him. Within an hour, Hutcherson, who was in town for his mother’s funeral, faked an asthma attack that unnerved the police. He says they then released him from detention and sent him on his way.

The descriptions that Wright and Hutcherson provided of their experiences at Homan are eerily similar to how Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, described such torture in The Atlantic:

Isolation, deprivation of food, other outside contact. It’s meant to be a lot of touchless torture. So they’re not touching you, which in the human-rights field is more powerful and scary because it doesn’t leave marks but leaves huge internal wounds.

Siska has known about the goings-on at Homan “since about the mid- to late-2000s.” Siska also said that most of those detained at Homan are poor, black and brown people suspected of street crimes. When I asked why reporters haven’t covered the abuses allegedly occurring there, Siska replied with a slight chuckle, “That’s the million dollar question. The problem is a lot of reporters agree with the police perspective.”

More broadly, Wright’s tale is typical of low-income, minoritized people victimized by America’s criminal justice system. Eventually, he was taken to Cook County jail, where he was processed and charged with distribution of heroin. Given his low-income status, Wright’s only option for counsel was a public defender.

Wright’s lawyer, he says, was pregnant and overworked, while Wright suffered through multiple continuances. When his public defender gave birth, Wright was assigned a new attorney, who also, naturally, had a taxing caseload. In the end, the drug charges against Wright were thrown out, though not before he’d spent six months under house arrest because his mother lacked the money to fund a bond for release.

Kory Wright was attending Wilbur Wright Community College, and taking criminal justice courses, when he was detained at Homan. He says he had hopes of becoming a police officer in the city of Chicago before that June day. Wright told me a story about how police — when he was 16 years old — had roughed up him up, along with some friends of his. Afterwards, Wright decided he wanted to be a counterweight to that sort of police-initiated harassment, which regularly afflicts communities such as North Lawndale. But his experience at Homan, and his subsequent arrest, caused him to miss a semester of school.

Fortunately, Wright recovered, and today, at age 29, he is working on his master’s degree in network engineering at DePaul University. He lives in Bronzeville, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, and is the father of a new baby girl. But the touchless torture he says he suffered at Homan continues to haunt him. “The whole thing caused a rift between me and my mom. I didn’t like being black at all after that, and when I got to DePaul, I started trying to be as white as possible,” a doleful Wright told me. “Being black is a curse.”

Editor’s Note: February 2, 2016
An earlier version of this piece stated that Kory Wright was detained in 2006, on his 21st birthday, and that he was charged for distributing heroin and cocaine. He was detained one year prior, on his 20th birthday, and was charged only with distribution of heroin. We regret the errors. 

After uncovering misattributed quotes in stories written by Juan Thompson, a former staff reporter, The Intercept conducted a review of his work. We were unable to confirm that Thompson interviewed “several lawyers and anti-police brutality advocates” for this report. However, we confirmed the quotes from Kory Wright, Deandre Hutcherson and Tracy Siska.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty (top); Courtesy of Kory Wright (second)

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