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On November 17, Develt Bradford, who was being held at Chicago's Area Two police station in connection with a shooting, allegedly hung himself with his pajama-style pants in his cell. Just three days later, detainee Melvin Woods was also found hanging in his cell -- at the same police station, during the same shift.
Now, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis is joining the families of the two men in calling for an independent investigation into the alleged suicides, which attorneys say are too much of a coincidence.
Bradford's wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday, claiming her husband's death was linked to the abuse of African Americans in Chicago Police custody, NBC Chicago reports. Last month, the daughter of Woods filed a similar suit.
“If the Chicago police did no wrong, let’s find that out. But let’s have an independent authority,” Sam Adam Jr., the Bradford family attorney who once represented former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, told WBEZ. “What we do not need is 15 years from now to be readdressing this like we had to do with Jon Burge.”
Burge, a former commander of the Area Two detectives, is serving a 4 1/2-year prison sentence after being convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under oath by saying he never witnessed or participated in the torture of African American suspects. Dozens of people -- mostly all black men -- claimed that Burge and his officers beat, burned or suffocated them until they confessed to various crimes.
"I cannot imagine anything more important than the citizens of this city — especially following what happened with Mr. Burge — to have confidence in their police force. ... We as a society have to have that," Adam Jr. told the Associated Press.
Currently, the Independent Police Review Authority is investigating the Area Two suicides. The agency is independent of the police department, but rarely finds police officers guilty of misconduct. According to a Chicago Reader report, the agency only finds officers guilty of misconduct in about 2 percent of cases.
During a Wednesday press conference, Davis said he was “not accusing anyone of anything," but said after receiving a call from a distraught family member, he felt the need to call on the U.S. Attorney’s Office "to conduct its own independent investigation," according to WBEZ.
Attorneys said video cameras covering the cells of both Bradford and Woods were turned off or not working at the time of the suicides, which also made them suspicious, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The families of the men, Rep. Davis and the attorneys involved with the case hope a federal investigation will give them answers about the suicides quickly, since a civil lawsuit could take years to resolve. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, however, has not commented on the whether they will take the case.
In a statement to the Associated Press, Chicago Police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton said IPRA is investigating the deaths, and that the department "takes the treatment of its arrestees very seriously."