Men recall incommunicado detention in caged room ‘like a dog’ for hours Nine victims have emerged from Homan Square despite police denials
Spencer Ackerman in New York with Zach Stafford in Chicago
Wednesday 4 March 2015 10.13 EST
When the group of armed masked men burst into the Paseo Boricua Grocery & Deli in Chicago, John Vergara initially thought he had walked into a stickup. Their guns were drawn, and they told everyone that afternoon to put their hands on the counter.
Vergara, an art teacher who had stopped in for a coﬀee, remembered: “At ﬁrst I thought itwas a robbery. I didn’t know it was the police until the sergeant walked in.”
The cops had “machine guns – I mean, I’m talking about riﬂes,” recalled Jose Garcia, then a cook there. “They all had masks, all of them. They looked like Isis – put it that way.”
It was September 29 2011, and it was just the beginning of an ordeal Vergara and Garcia say led to police holding them – along with the deli manager and two others – for eight or nine hours, without any public notice of their whereabouts, without a visit from their lawyers, or
without even a phone call.
The group’s place of conﬁnement was Homan Square, the police warehouse complex on Chicago’s west side that is at the center of controversy for its incommunicado detentions and interrogations without the beneﬁt of lawyers. Some have likened the building to the
domestic police equivalent of a CIA black site. Garcia, reﬂecting on his time chained up inside Homan Square, compares it to Guantánamo Bay. Vergara, who drew pictures of it, grew scared upon his return to the site with a Guardian photographer on Tuesday
Though the masked police demanded confessions, Vergara and Garcia told the Guardian, everything changed that night in 2011 once Vergara dropped the name of a prominent Chicago civil-rights attorney. Only then, they said, did the police let all but one of the
Homan ﬁve go – on the condition that Vergara promise not to tell the attorney anything about what happened.
“We’re in an abandoned building, we’re freaking out, we’re seeing these guys with masks coming in and out, and John is telling them they’re bogus, ‘You guys are doing this illegally,’ and this and this and this,” Garcia said.
“Then they came back and all of a sudden they http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/04/chicago-police-masked-raid-homan-square
‘They looked like Isis’: masked raid led to ‘kidnapping’ at Chicago police site | US news | The Guardian seemed scared.”
“I pretty much was kidnapped,” said Vergara – who, until a Guardian investigation exposed allegations of police misconduct at Homan Square, kept his word not to talk publicly about what happened to him. “I did not have any idea where I was. I didn’t even know about that
building until that day.”
One week after the Homan Square revelations began, the Chicago police department continues to deny in unspeciﬁc statements that there is anything untoward about the facility, emphasizing its role hosting an evidence locker and special unit headquarters, while insisting the Guardian’s reporting is inaccurate and that Homan Square “is not a secret facility”. The department did not respond to detailed questions for this story, consistent with its approach to the Guardian’s investigations into Chicago police abuse published over
the last two weeks.
But now the Guardian has interviewed nine people, seven of them Chicagoans, who havetold notably consistent stories about police holding them in Homan Square for hours – and, in one case, days – without providing any way to notify their families or their lawyers as to where they are. Like Deandre Hutcherson in 2005, Vergara and Garcia went through hours locked incommunicado in the building, only to be set free without any charge.
Backed by attorneys and local activists, these citizens point to Homan Square as the latest example of Chicago policing tactics run amok – and of American police oﬃcers growing over-militarized and threatening to the very communities, particularly black and brown
ones, they are supposed to protect. No ordinary cell: ‘We were cuffed to each other and to the bar’ Until he was taken to Homan Square, Vergara did not know about the compound – at least not under that name. Around the heavily Puerto Rican neighborhood of Humboldt Park, the facility – a few miles southwest from the deli, at the intersection of South Homan Street and West Fillmore Avenue – is more often known as the Fillmore Building.
“Everybody’s got a nickname for it. I know it as the Fillmore Building,” Vergara said. Vergara, now 42, didn’t expect to see it ﬁrsthand. He had just started a job teaching art at a nearby Boys & Girls Club, and stopped in at Paseo Boricua for a caﬀeine boost. As fate would
have it, the police were also interested in the shop’s manager, Eddie Calderon – not that anyone there knew why.
Garcia, now 45, was one of Calderon’s cooks, and had a hard time believing his employer was involved in anything illegal.
“This guy’s never been in trouble, and the next thing you know, they come out with drugs[charges]. We’re like: ‘What?’” Garcia said.
Eddie Calderon declined to comment to the Guardian. Vergara and Garcia said that oﬃcers initially swooped up the two of them, Calderon and http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/04/chicago-police-masked-raid-homan-square
‘They looked like Isis’: masked raid led to ‘kidnapping’ at Chicago police site | US news | The Guardian three others in a paddy wagon: one member of the group, a cook, the cops apparently let go; the others they took to Homan Square. Both Vergara and Garcia said police oﬃcers never read them their rights, meant to protect against self-implication and protected by the US constitution.
Unlike the seven other people held at Homan Square interviewed by the Guardian, Garcia and Vergara said all ﬁve of them were held in the same room. It was no ordinary cell: three sides of it were concrete and the fourth, containing a door, was metal-link fencing – reminiscent of the “cages” described by Homan Square arrestees Brock Terry and David Smith, as well as former police superintendent Richard Brzeczek. Vergara, the artist, later drew pictures of the room.
The cage-like area had neither a toilet nor a sink, only a bench with a metal bar behind it. Oﬃcers cuﬀed Vergara – “like a dog,” he said – by one wrist to the bar and by the other to an elderly customer who, he remembered, was wearing a hospital bracelet.
“We were cuﬀed to each other and to the bar,” Garcia said. “They thought I was a threat because of my size. I was like, ‘Dude, you don’t have to put me like I’m an animal.’”
Like the other seven people whose stories from inside Homan Square have been detailed in the Guardian, Vergara and Garcia said they were not booked, not charged there and not given a phone call. Vergara said he was denied when he asked for an attorney. Both men
said police did not inform them why they would be in Homan Square for what they both estimated was the next eight to nine hours.
Instead, oﬃcers told the ﬁve, Vergara remembered: “If you guys don’t fess up, we’re gonna put all of this on you, we’re gonna split this up that we found, and we’re gonna put each and every one of you with a piece of this if you guys don’t talk.”
The deal and the police report: ‘Eight, nine hours my family doesn’t know where I’m at’ Hours into their conﬁnement, Vergara said, he thought of something: he mentioned that he wanted to speak to Blake Horwitz, a well-known civil rights attorney who has pursued cases
against Chicago police.
“When I mentioned his name, the whole game changed,” Vergara said. “Humboldt Park, everybody could be a paralegal there. That’s how much they fuck with you, the police. We know the ins and outs,” Garcia.
He continued: “They probably thought we was some dumbass Ricans or whatever, we don’t know shit. So when we start spitting out some of this paralegal stuﬀ we know – oh, shit, damn.”
The duo remember a bare-faced and seemingly middle-aged sergeant saying he wanted to work out a deal: “’You don’t say nothing and we’ll leave it at that.’ And I’m like, well, no – if I don’t say nothing, that means you guys uncuﬀ us, take us back to the restaurant, and I
‘They looked like Isis’: masked raid led to ‘kidnapping’ at Chicago police site | US news | The Guardian won’t say nothing to the attorney,” Vergara said. “I said, ‘John, look, bro, just tell them anything so we can get the fuck out of here,’” Garciasaid. The deal was struck. “About an hour later, he came back and they uncuﬀed us all,” Vergara said. Police drove them back to the deli – all, that is, except Calderon, who was taken to Central Male Lockup on 26th Street and California Avenue and charged with possession
with intent to distribute cocaine.
Calderon would later accept a plea deal and serve probation. Vergara, Garcia and the othertwo went free.
Chicago’s police insist in their statements that full documentation exists for people detained at Homan Square: “There are always records of anyone who is arrested by CPD, and this is no diﬀerent at Homan Square,” the department said in a “factsheet” distributed Sunday. But the police report of Calderon’s arrest appears to leave out their time at the warehouse.
Phillip Oliver, an attorney for Calderon, described Calderon’s oﬃcial arrest report to the Guardian. It reads in part: “The arrestee as well as all the above noted subjects were taken to Unit 189 for further investigation. All the other subjects were name-checked and released.” According to a Chicago police directive, Unit 189 is Narcotics.
Asked if the report speciﬁed either the Homan Square facility or how long the men were detained there, Oliver replied: “No.”
Before driving Vergara, Garcia and the two other customers back to the deli, police apologized to them.
“They pretty much, after all that, all the aggression – we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that – then it became, ‘Oh, it’s probably a misunderstanding.’ Well, wait a minute: eight, nine hours my family doesn’t know where I’m at. You guys kidnapped us,” Vergara said.
Police denials and political protest: ‘Not much happens in Chicago without makingthe mayor move’
Vergara ultimately quit his job at the Boys & Girls Club a few weeks later. It felt awkward, hesaid, after one of his students and another employee had seen police marching them out the back of the deli. Vergara didn’t want to tempt fate – or any police who might grow
concerned he hadn’t kept his bargain.
“Vergara has shown the public that the Chicago police department can kidnap and secretly interrogate people for having done nothing more than get a cup of coﬀee at the wrong restaurant at the wrong time,” said local attorney Billy Joe Mills.
Horwitz did not want to comment beyond saying that he had indeed not heard of the incident. But he added that he did not ﬁnd the police’s willingness to free a man in http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/04/chicago-police-masked-raid-homan-square
‘They looked like Isis’: masked raid led to ‘kidnapping’ at Chicago police site | US news | The Guardian exchange for his silence surprising.
“That kind of stuﬀ is not uncommon,” Horwitz said. “I would say in some venues, it’s just the way things are done. I’ve seen so much, you have no idea. So honestly, I don’t get disturbed by these things anymore. I’ve seen torture, I’ve seen death.”
Chicago police and politicians, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel, continue to deny accounts like those from nine ﬁrst-hand descriptions of people detained at Homan Square. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the candidate who forced Emanuel into an April runoﬀ election last week, has yet to
“You’re going to have to deal with this,” Darrell Cannon, a man who identiﬁes as a survivor of torture under the notorious Chicago police commander Jon Burge, said at a demonstration on Monday night, pointing to Emanuel’s oﬃce at Chicago city hall. The protest, dubbed ‘Reparations Not Black Sites: Rally for the Run Oﬀ’, represented the latest eﬀort from activists pushing Emanuel and the city to take up an ordinance that would include further payments to victims under Burge as well as a formal apology from the city, community centers and a requirement for Chicago public schools to teach the history of police abuse in the city
“Not much happens in Chicago without making the mayor move,” said Kelly Hayes, an organizer of the event.
Page May, a co-organizer of the event and of We Charge Genocide, which recently presented a report on Chicago police abuse to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, said: “People have been talking about this facility and people weren’t paying attention – the
police have historically done exactly this.”
The Guardian’s Homan Square exposé emerged from its February investigation of Richard Zuley, the Chicago police detective turned Guantánamo Bay torturer. While there is no evidence Zuley was involved with Homan Square, when Jose Garcia saw an MSNBC
segment on Zuley, he immediately drew a parallel to his own experience.
“I seen that, and I’m saying to myself, Chicago police oﬃcer? Wait a minute, those sons of bitches – that’s how they did us,” Garcia said. “I said to myself, that’s how those fuckers did us, that same shit, that Guantánamo Bay shit.”
Garcia continued: “It was like we were terrorists, you know what I’m saying? Oﬀ some petty shit.”
This article was amended on 5 March 2015 – we initially conﬂated Eddie Calderon’s two sandwich places. The police raided the Paseo Boricua Grocery and Deli, also operated by Eddie Calderon, and not Eddie’s Sandwiches, as we originally said. Paseo Boricua is across
the street from Eddie’s. This has now been changed.