For psychological reasons, Angel Perez does not call what happened to him rape. But he vividly recalls being taken to Homan Square, a warehouse used by the Chicago police for incommunicado detentions, where police inserted something into his rectum.
“I felt the coldness and the metallic aspect of it,” Perez, 33, told the Guardian.
It was 21 October 2012. Perez had been driving his Rav-4 on his restaurant delivery route the day before when he says police accosted him, wanting him to contact a drug dealer who they believed Perez knew so they could arrange a sting. But Perez was less cooperative than they had hoped.
Now, Perez was handcuffed by his right wrist to a metal bar behind a bench in an interrogation room on the second floor of Homan Square. Behind him were two police officers that a lawsuit Perez recently re-filed identifies as Jorge Lopez and Edmund Zablocki. They had been threatening him with a stint at the infamously violent Cook County jail if he didn’t cooperate.
“They’re gonna think you’re a little sexy bitch in jail,” Perez recalled one of them saying. The lawsuit quotes Lopez: “I hear that a big black nigger dick feels like a gun up your ass.”
Perez claims he was bent over in front of the bench and a piece of detritus. He recalled smelling urine and seeing bloodstains in the room. The police officers pulled his shirt up and slowly moved a metallic object down his bare skin. Then they pulled his pants down.
“He’s talking all this sexual stuff, he’s really getting fucking weird about it, too,” Perez remembered. He began shaking, the beginnings of a panic attack.
“They get down to where they’re gonna insert it, this is where I feel that it’s something around my rear end, and he said some stupid comment and then he jammed it in there and I started jerking and going all crazy – I think I kicked him – and I just go into a full-blown panic attack … The damage it caused, it pretty much swole my rear end like a baboon’s butt.”
Whatever the object was, the police suggested it was the barrel of a handgun. After Perez involuntarily jerked from the penetration, Officer Edmund Zablocki is alleged to have told him: “I almost blew your brains out.”
Perez claims all this occurred to persuade him to purchase $170 worth of heroin from the dealer.
‘After they did that, I would have done anything for them’
Perez is now the 13th person the Guardian has interviewed since February who has described being taken by police to a warehouse on Chicago’s west side ; kept without a record of his whereabouts available to the public; and shackled for hours or even days without access to a lawyer. Most of them have been black, Hispanic and poor. Some allege physical abuse ; all allege that they were in an inherently coercive environment. Few were charged with a crime, and police took those who were to actual police stations for booking after detention at Homan. Police and local media have dismissed their stories, focusing instead on the atmospherics of how secretive the facility is or the rhetoric used to describe it.
The abuse Perez alleges is reminiscent of an earlier era of police torture in Chicago, when Darrell Cannon had a shotgun barrel jammed into his mouth . Decades after Cannon’s abuse, Chicago established last week a reparations fund for police torture survivors . Perez is still seeking justice.
He initially filed a lawsuit against the police detailing his allegations of sexual abuse in 2013, which attracted attention from Courthouse News and Vice . But what he has since learned is that his ordeal took place at Homan Square, the off-the-books detention center considered by lawyers and activists to be the law enforcement analogue of a CIA black site. Weeks ago, four other people detained at Homan Square from 2006 to 2015 joined his lawsuit.
Videos Perez acquired through his legal proceedings , excerpts of which the Guardian is publishing, show him inside the warehouse complex and corroborate the dates and times of his detention there.
The effect of the sexual torture was similar to Cannon’s. Cannon falsely confessed to a murder. Perez told Lopez and Zablocki he would make the buy. He called “D”, whom court papers allege is a man named Dwayne, and arranged to purchase heroin with $170 the police gave him.
“After they did that, I would have done anything for them,” said Perez, who was not charged with any crime related to his Homan Square detention.
The Chicago police department has reacted with indignation and non-specific denials of the Guardian’s Homan Square reporting, and have taken particular umbrage at allegations of physical abuse.
“The allegation that physical violence is a part of interviews with suspects is unequivocally false, it is offensive, and it is not supported by any facts whatsoever,” the police said in a 1 March statement .
The police downplayed Homan’s detention operations, part of their media pushback, saying that like other police facilities around the city, it contains “several standard interview rooms”. Most people interviewed at Homan Square are “low-level arrests from the narcotics unit”.
Yet the videos show police leading Perez, hands confined behind his back, through a door inside Homan marked “prisoner entrance”, suggesting a more routinized detention function than the police have described. Perez was never formally arrested: he was neither booked nor permitted legal counsel nor charged.
“No inmates are supposed to be there. Certainly they’re not supposed to be held there,” said Perez’s attorney, Scott Kamin.
The other people who signed onto Perez’s lawsuit have also told their stories for the first time. Their further revelations, including confinement in fetid and humiliating conditions, now mark 17 first-hand accounts of detention at Homan Square since the Guardian began reporting on the warehouse in February. The most recent occurred fewer than three weeks before the initial report.
Jose Martinez is alleged to have been cuffed to a bench for nine hours before being booked at an actual police station in September 2011. He claims that he was shackled “without food, water or use of the restroom” in a “locked room that smelled like urine and feces”.
Two other individuals, Estephanie Martinez and Calvin Coffey, described relieving themselves while shackled in Homan Square interrogation rooms. Martinez, locked up in August 2006, was told by a guard that she did not have the key to Martinez’s handcuffs and could not take her to the bathroom. Coffey, taken to Homan Square on 6 February 2015 on suspicion of “narcotic activity”, defecated on the floor after two hours of fruitless requests for the bathroom. A police officer “made Calvin clean it up with his skull cap”, the lawsuit alleges.
At the time I thought I was having a heart attack, because I couldn’t breathe, my chest got all tight
Juanita Berry was with Coffey at the time of his detention and was taken with him to Homan Square. Handcuffed to a “ring or a bar on the wall” at Homan Square, the lawsuit alleges, officers told her to get them two handguns “or else they would charge her with aiding in the delivery of controlled substance”. After “several hours and many threats”, Berry agreed.
After Berry acquired a gun from an unspecified acquaintance, satisfied police allegedly drove her to a Dunkin’ Donuts and let her go without charge.
Berry’s account echoes that of a different Chicago man, not a party to the lawsuit, whom the Guardian has separately interviewed. The man, whom the Guardian has agreed to identify as Young OG so as not to risk his further police harassment, said Homan Square police kept him detained for nearly an entire day before he agreed to get them guns.
Young OG, a black man in his 30s, was picked up by masked police, guns drawn, after he stopped at a gas station with a friend in late 2013 for cigarettes. It was mid-morning and Young OG was confused over whether he was getting robbed or stopped by police.
“It was a real-life kidnapping,” he said.
At Homan Square, police kept Young OG confined with a twist tie on his right wrist, “another twist tie through that twist tie to the bar”, he said. Young OG was kept, he said, in an office-like space – he saw a desk nearby – without furniture, causing him to sit on a dirty floor and lay on his hooded sweatshirt, his body aching. He was not fed, not booked, not permitted a lawyer and afforded one brief bathroom break.
“The man told me to take two minutes to cop a squat and drop a knot. I’ll never forget it,” he said.
Late that evening, police came to Young OG, woke him up, and said they wanted him to provide them with weapons. One officer had what looked like packets of heroin. “It’s gonna be yours before the night’s over if you don’t cooperate with us,” Young OG recalled a masked officer telling him.
“As soon as you help us, the sooner you’ll get out of here,” he recalled an officer saying. A white officer “went straight to guns”, saying that Young OG needed to get them for the police.
Young OG was allowed to call his friend, whom the Guardian has agreed to identify as “Head”. He told Head: “Police got us, bro, they’re trying to pin us on some bullshit.” With the knowledge of the police, Young OG instructed Head to place any gun he could find in a garbage can behind Young OG’s grandmother’s house.
Head did as his friend asked. He said he didn’t see any police cars near Young OG’s grandmother in the pre-dawn hours, but did see an unmarked Crown Victoria. “By 2.30, they were picking the shit out from the garbage,” Head said.
Police let Young OG and his friend go later that morning without charge. Young OG never got his cellphone, his ID or his wallet back.
The Chicago police department did not respond to a list of questions sent to them for this story, as has been its typical practice with the Guardian’s Homan Square reporting.
‘I just want them to stop’
Last month, the Guardian sued the Chicago police department after attempts at acquiring official police records about Homan Square under the Freedom of Information Act proved fruitless. The police are scheduled to file their first response on Friday. Among the records sought are a tally of how many people have been taken to Homan Square, as well as any video evidence of interrogations and detentions there – evidence that Angel Perez’s case has independently turned up.
Perez occasionally smoked marijuana, racking up a few cannabis possession arrests over the years, and purchased it from a man who he only knew as “D”, apparently the “Dwayne” who had come on the police’s radar. Police interpreted the half a Vicodin they found in his car as an indication of a deeper involvement in drugs. A self-described sci-fi writer and “nerdy guy”, he said he had little experience with aggression before Homan Square.
I know they’re never going to go to jail. So I’m hoping maybe they’ll get fired if we expose enough of what they do
At Homan, he alleges, a large officer “sat on my chest while he’s yelling at me … I was freaking the fuck out … He pushes his palms up against my face, my eyeballs, just kind of pushing me down.”
It was also his first experience with severe anxiety: “I never had panic attacks before that point. At the time I thought I was having a heart attack, because I couldn’t breathe, my chest got all tight.”
Perez did not initially know about Homan Square. Disoriented from a drive in the back of a police car, Perez thought, and indicated in earlier court filings, that he was at the nearby police station at Harrison and Kedzie, where he had been taken the day before his alleged sexual abuse. Only after Perez launched his lawsuit – and for a period served as his own attorney – did documentation and video evidence emerge indicating he was at Homan Square.
A spokesman for Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority, Larry Merritt, told the Guardian that it had investigated Perez’s claims and deemed them “unfounded”. He would not elaborate and invited the Guardian to file a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more.
Perez said that while he “would love to see those cops in jail”, the long history of Chicago police abuse does not give him reason for optimism.
“At this point, I just want them to stop. I know they’re never going to go to jail. So I’m hoping maybe they’ll get fired if we expose enough of what they do. But really, I even doubt that’ll happen in this city,” he said.
Additional reporting by Zach Stafford