Federal Jury Awards Stanley Wrice $5.2 Million After He Was Beaten, Forced to Confess to 1982 Gang Rape

A Chicago man who spent 31 years in prison after he was brutally beaten and forced to confess to a 1982 gang rape by two police officers was awarded $5.2 million in damages by a federal jury on March 3. Stanley Wrice, who said the officers tortured him into giving a false confession, told reporters he finally feels vindicated.

The decision came after an eight-day trial and deliberation of seven hours. Jurors sided with Wrice in two of his three legal claims. Wrice alleged that detectives John Byrne and Peter Dignan violated his constitutional rights when they beat him in the basement of the Area 2 police headquarters, The Chicago Tribune reported.

Jurors, however, sided in favor of the officers on Wrice’s third legal claim that his constitutional right to a fair trial was violated. Lawyers for the officers, who have since retired, alleged Wrice “sadistically tortured” the female victim like “something you see in horror movies,” according to The Chicago Sun Times.

Ultimately, jurors in U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber’s courtroom awarded Wrice $4 million in compensatory damages and handed down a $600,000 judgment each against Byrne and Dignan.

“It sends a message to Peter Dignan and John Byrne,” Wrice told reporters after the verdict. “I am so vindicated. I got closure.”

Wrice’s lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, told The Chicago Tribune that she expects the city of Chicago to appeal the verdict, thus delaying payment to her client. Despite this, she said the jury’s decision was a victory for Wrice.

“For Mr. Wrice, just having a jury come back and say, ‘We believe you. We believe this happened to you in the basement of Area 2. We believe that Byrne and Dignan did this,’…is the most unbelievable feeling, because he’s been called a liar for so many years,” the attorney said.

In a statement to The North Star, Chicago Law Department spokesperson Kathleen Fieweger said, “We believe the award, while significantly less than the plaintiff sought, is nonetheless inconsistent with the jury’s finding that no evidence was fabricated or suppressed.” The statement added that the department was “assessing next steps.”

Case Breakdown

On September 9, 1982, a 33-year-old female victim was sexually assaulted, beaten and burned with an iron to her face and body in Wrice’s second-floor attic. The victim suffered more than 100 bruises and burns to 20 percent of her body, according to lawyers for the officers.

Despite the attack happening in his home, Wrice has maintained that he did not witness the crime or suspect something had happened that night. Wrice testified that he fell asleep on a couch when the victim was sexually assaulted. His attorney noted that Wrice’s home was a “party house,” where noise was a constant.

Wrice claimed in his 1983 trial that he was repeatedly beaten by Byrne and Dignan in the basement of the Area 2 police headquarters. Despite the allegations, he was convicted and sentenced to 100 years behind bars.

Byrne and Dignan were two detectives under disgraced former police Cmdr. Jon Burge. According to The Chicago Tribune, a special prosecutor’s report found evidence that proved rampant abuse by Burge and his “midnight crew” of detectives during the 1970s and 1980s. Burge was ultimately convicted of federal perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under oath about the abuse.

In December 2013, a Cook County judge granted Wrice a new criminal trial after key witnesses recanted their testimony. The next day, Wrice gained his freedom after 31 years in prison after prosecutors acknowledged he could not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

However, by the fall of 2014, Cook County Judge Thomas Byrne denied Wrice a “certificate of innocence.” The judge claimed there was “substantial evidence” that Wrice “actively participated” in the assault, The Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Chicago Police’s Long Legacy of Abuse

The Chicago Police Department has a long history of abuse and violence that is typically aimed at Black and Brown Chicagoans. The Burge scandal revealed that the department had a history of torture techniques against more than 100 suspects.

In 2015, The Guardian investigated reports that a Homan Square facility was being used for interrogations and hours-long detentions without public notice or access to legal help. Several young men spoke of the abuse they suffered at Homan Square.

“The subtle message in the department is white supremacy, white male supremacy,” Pat Hill, a former Chicago police officer who led the African American Police League, told the British publication.

Brock Terry, then 31, told The Guardian that he was taken to Homan Square in 2011 after being caught with five and a half pounds of marijuana. Terry said police held him for three days at the site, without public notice, booking or a lawyer.

“I was kept there. I didn’t speak to a lawyer or anything,” Terry said, who added his loved ones could not locate him. “I didn’t interact with nobody for three days. And then when I do see the light of day, I got straight to another police station, go straight there to county and be processed.”

In response, the Chicago PD released a “factsheet” that maintained the facility was similar to “more than 25 CPD facilities throughout the city” and vehemently denied that it was a secret facility.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.