chicagotribunelogo

60 years later, police found not at fault in brutality case

The accused were dead; so too was the rape victim. All the city had left to defend itself against a nearly 60-year-old allegation of police brutality were decades-old court transcripts that were read in court by actors.

Still, on Wednesday, a federal jury found in the city’s favor, rejecting a 79-year-old African-American man’s civil rights lawsuit contending that he was beaten and physically threatened into confessing that he raped a white woman on the South Side in 1951.

“His story is exactly that, a story,” Andrew Hale, an attorney who represented the city, said of the accuser after the verdict was announced. “They vindicated the Chicago police.”

Attorneys for Oscar Walden Jr. sought $15 million in the extraordinary lawsuit, which made it to trial so many decades following the alleged abuse — despite the usual statute of limitations — after then-Gov. George Ryan granted Walden a pardon in 2002.

Walden, now a minister, testified over two days, recounting an interrogation that he said included threats that he’d be strung up in his cell with a rope if he didn’t confess. Experts testified that the Chicago police routinely coerced confessions from African-American men in the 1950s.

But several members of the eight-person jury, which included two African-Americans and six women, told reporters after the verdict that they were not convinced by Walden’s testimony.

“He just didn’t prove himself,” said Dennis Pelc, 59, of Chicago.

Jurors also said they were unable to find strong evidence of coercion by police in court records, including several pardon applications by Walden that contained no evidence of beatings or threats.

Jurors also struggled to believe Walden’s contention that he suffered a scar on his left fingers from officers bending his hand back during his interrogation.

Attorneys for the city argued that the marks on Walden’s hand were left by the rape victim, who had testified years ago that she bit her attacker’s hand during the assault.

“There was no (police) misconduct,” city attorney Avi Kamionski said.

With the victim and the accused officers all dead, attorneys for the city had actors read transcripts of their testimony from the rape trial in 1952 to the jury deciding the lawsuit brought by Walden.

Walden, who had no previous criminal record, was arrested seven weeks after the rape after police issued a sketch artist of the suspect.

Walden’s attorney, John Stainthorp, called the jury’s verdict unfortunate.

“It’s obviously difficult to put on a case from 60 years ago,” Stainthorp said.