In the summer of 2006, the growing awareness of the police torture scandal involving Jon Burge and detectives working under his command resulted in a series of town hall meetings convened by attorney Stan Willis. These meetings in turn led to the creation of a grass roots group known as Black People Against Police Torture (“BPABT”), which was co-chaired by attorney Larry Kennon and retired police officer Patricia hill, along with Mr. Willis. This group embarked upon a campaign to get a law enacted by the Illinois General Assembly to create a civilian commission to review the criminal cases of persons who claimed to have been tortured into confessing to a crime, and the confession was used to convict them of that crime.
After drafting the Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission Act, BPAPT engaged in an extensive community education campaign, which included additional town hall meetings, letter writing and internet messages, and bus trips to Springfield to acquaint legislators with the proposed bill. The bill was first introduced in 2007, but was not passed. It was introduced again in 2008, but once more was not passed.
Finally, in March, 2009, the bill, with Senator Kwame Raoul as the lead sponsor, passed in the Senate by a large margin. In May it passed in the House, where the lead sponsor was Rep. Art Turner, and it was sent to Governor Quinn in June, 2009. He signed it into law on August 10, 2009.
After the bill was signed into law, the lengthy process began of appointing the Commissioners and their alternates. The original Commission consisted of the Chair, Retired Judge Patricia Brown Holmes, and Commissioners Rob Acton, Professor Leonard Cavise, Daniel Coyne, Neil Toppel, Paul Roldan, Rob Warden, and Andrea Zopp. The alternates were Retired Judge Bernetta Bush, Doris Green, Marcie Thorp, and the Rev. Jeanette Wilson. This process was completed in the summer of 2010.
Once the Commissioners were in place, they began the search for an Executive Director. On February 1, 2011, David Thomas was hired for that position and the TIRC began operating. In April, Rosa Martinez was hired as the private secretary to staff the commission office.
The first order of business for any state agency is to draft rules and procedures to guide its operations. This involves filing the proposed rules with the office of the Secretary of State, publishing them to allow for public comment, then filing the revised rules with the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, and finally publishing the adopted rules. The Commission’s rules, which can be found here, became effective August 25, 2011.
While the rules were in the process of being adopted, the Commission began an outreach program to community groups and potential claimants. In April, 2011, the Commission began receiving the first claims. The Commission also began securing volunteer lawyers to advise claimants about the Commission’s procedures in processing their claims.