Homan Square: Chicago’s ‘Off The Books’ Interrogation Center Hides Detainees And Blocks Lawyers

Chicago’s lawlessness has crept into its law enforcement, according to new information about the secretive Homan Square interrogation center.

A detailed account of the inner workings of Homan Square published in The Guardian shows that the number of citizens processed through the center exceeds 7,000, which is nearly double what the paper had previously reported when it first began to obtain documents about the detention center.

Homan Square Chicago
Homan Square can be seen in this photo, wedged between some of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods. [Source: Ian Freimuth/Flickr]

The British paper is unveiling such information as the result of a lawsuit and subsequent investigation into the practices used by police at Homan Square. Among the most grave of accusations, the paper states that documents reveal an extremely low percentage of arrested individuals being provided with an attorney. Less than 1 percent of cases allowed lawyers entering Homan Square to defend their clients over the course of nearly 11 years. Even among those whose files indicated that they did speak with a lawyer, many say that the help given to them was minimal or did not happen at all.

Part of that lack of access appears to be due to incomplete processing. Some attorneys with experience working within the facility reported that it was extremely difficult to find their client within Homan Square due to a lack of proper booking. Furthermore, those taken to Homan Square are not typically given a phone call, making it nearly impossible for them to contact their attorney. David Gaegar, an attorney who had a client in the facility, described the location as something out of fiction.

“Operating a massive, red-brick warehouse between two of the most crime-filled areas in the city of Chicago, equipped with floodlights, cameras, razor-wire – this near-paramilitary wing of the government that we’ve created, I would say that people who live close to it know what purpose it serves the most…. The demographics that surround it speak for themselves… Not much shakes me in this business – baby murder, sex assault, I’ve done it all. That place was and is scary. It’s a scary place. There’s nothing about it that resembles a police station. It comes from a Bond movie or something.”

Racial injustice is also rife at Homan Square, previously reported The Guardian. More than 80 percent of the people detained there were black, despite the fact that they make up just under a third of Chicago’s population. Of the 22 sources who have told The Guardian their stories of being detained in the facility, only two of them were given the option of making a phone call. Both of them were white.

Lawyers who have been able to enter Homan Square say that it was extremely difficult to gain access, and that once inside, police were very secretive about what was going on there. Lawyer Rajeev Bajaj recounted waiting for more than an hour to see a client there in 2006.

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“When I got there, there were two prosecutors questioning, knowing fully that I was down there to see him. When I walked in, they seriously walked away, acting like they weren’t speaking to him or anything. It’s typical Chicago police, typical Homan Square, typical Cook County prosecutors’ office.”

Homan Square Chicago
Lawyer Rajeev Bajaj says that conditions in the facility were very secretive, much like the rest of what he's seen from Chicago's police force. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Another interesting facet of The Guardian‘s article was their choice to use the word “disappeared” when referring to the lack of public disclosure of the location of those taken into Homan Square. The term is popularly used when describing opposition members who are murdered by a dictatorship or otherwise violent government. Several commenters on the article compared the situation to what had occurred Chile and Argentina during their dictatorships, though accusations of torture and murder have not appeared from the Homan Square controversy.

[Image via Scott Olson/Getty Images]