Mitchell: Police tipster alleges police brutality in Carl Chatman case

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Carl Chatman fit the profile.

He was black.

He was homeless.

He suffered from a mental impairment.

When he was arrested and charged within hours for allegedly raping a woman in the Daley Center in 2002, the speedy wrap-up of the case had something in common with a lot of other wrongful convictions.

There was no physical evidence connecting Chatman with the crime. Yet Chatman had confessed to the sexual assault, according to Chicago Police.

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He was convicted in 2004 and shipped off to prison where he served 11 years. Cook County prosecutors set aside his conviction in 2013 after a thorough re-examination of the case due, in large part, to the advocacy of lawyers and Chatman’s sister, Theresa Chatman.

The wronged man is now suing the city of Chicago and numerous police officers.

A document, unsealed in federal court on Tuesday, may offer some insight into why wrongful convictions have plagued this state.

Two days after Chatman’s arrest, an anonymous tipster sent a letter to Internal Affairs and accused a controversial former police detective, Kriston Kato, of physically abusing Chatman in order to get a confession.

Kato’s name wasn’t on any of Chatman’s official paperwork. But the officer had earned a reputation for getting suspects to confess to murder.

Unfortunately for the city, a lot of those suspects have later accused Kato of using force to extract those confessions.

The tipster’s accusations fit that pattern.

“Detective Kato hit the suspect and shouted ‘Tell me you did it!’ . . . The homeless suspect said one last time ‘Did what? I didn’t do nothing.’ . . . Detective Kato hit the suspect with such a blow that last time that the suspect groaned from sheer pain and doubled over grasping [sic] for air,” according to the anonymous complaint.

I was unable to reach Kato, who has retired from the Chicago Police Department.

But given the Jon Burge torture scandal, it would seem like an anonymous complaint letter of this nature would have triggered an immediate investigation.

That didn’t happen.

“The complaint was initially submitted on May 27, 2002, by interdepartmental mail and it was submitted to Internal Affairs to a specific name. It was buried and nothing happens until 2004 when Carl is convicted,” Ainsworth told me.

A spokesman for the city’s law department said there is no evidence that any letter was sent to investigators in 2002, although the dated letter is part of the investigation file into this matter.

“The evidence in this matter raises serious questions whether the alleged whistleblower letter is even authentic,” the spokesman said.

Attorney Russell Ainsworth, however, called the anonymous complaint a “really powerful corroboration” of Chatman’s claim of abuse.

“He has always maintained that an officer of Asian descent physically abused him,” the attorney said.

In October 2004, the Office of Professional Standards determined the allegations against Kato were unfounded.

“Other than a letter from an anonymous person and Chatman’s statement, there is no evidence to support the allegation,” OPS concluded.

“This is a window into the way the Chicago Police Department views its role in terms of ferreting out misconduct. It was not concerned at all with trying to expose its own misconduct,” Ainsworth said.

Once again, Chatman’s word is being disregarded simply because he is black and he is poor.

Follow Mary Mitchell on Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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