2002 ‘whistleblower’ complaint said cop coerced confession, but allegation ignored.
By: Steve Mills, Chicago Tribune: July 8th, 2015
From the moment Carl Chatman was arrested in a clerk’s rape at the Daley Center in May 2002, doubts existed about his guilt. No forensic evidence connected Chatman to the crime, and officials could not explain how he had slipped out of the building undetected.
But Chicago police said Chatman had confessed to the sexual assault and that the supposed victim had identified him as her attacker.
Chatman served more than a decade in prison before Cook County prosecutors set aside his conviction in 2013 after a lengthy re-examination of the case.
Now it appears that the Police Department had reason to be concerned about Chatman’s confession early in its investigation of the high-profile case.
Documents unsealed Tuesday in federal court as part of a lawsuit over the police investigation show that just days after Chatman’s confession, a Chicago police detective filed an anonymous complaint in May 2002 with the internal affairs office making a serious allegation: that a controversial detective named Kriston Kato had physically abused Chatman and forced him to sign a false confession.
“Detective Kato hit the suspect and shouted, ‘Tell me you did it!” according to a copy of the complaint contained in the court files.
According to internal documents and Chatman’s attorneys, it appears no one in the department acted on the complaint for two years before it was forwarded to the Office of Professional Standards, which at the time investigated complaints of brutality by Chicago police officers.
That office then cleared Kato of wrongdoing apparently without even questioning him, according to the documents made public Tuesday on the orders of U.S. District Judge John Lee.
“What I see is a detective who knows about Kato’s background and saw this as so beyond the pale they couldn’t keep quiet,” Russell Ainsworth, one of Chatman’s attorneys, said of the detective who complained about the interrogation. “This is a police officer who tried to do the right thing.”
The allegation is the latest in a series of twists for a case in which prosecutors came to doubt that a sexual assault ever occurred. Years earlier, in 1979, the purported victim also had claimed she was raped in a downtown building. In both instances, she filed lawsuits seeking financial compensation.
Kato could not be reached Tuesday for comment, and one of his attorneys referred questions to the city’s law department.
John Holden, a spokesman for the law department, said attorneys have questioned whether the letter is authentic. “The evidence in this matter raises serious questions whether the alleged whistleblower letter is even authentic,” Holden said in a statement. “And there is no evidence that any letter was sent to investigators in 2002, as plaintiff’s counsel argued.”
The case began when a courtroom clerk reported that she had been raped. She told detectives that Chatman had threatened her with scissors, then sexually assaulted her after she had come to work early one morning. Chatman, who was mentally ill and, at the time, homeless, was arrested after police spotted him near the Daley Center not long after the incident. He was convicted at trial and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Chatman’s claim that the rape was fabricated was central to his appeals. In September 2013, following an extensive investigation, prosecutors in State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s Conviction Integrity Unit asked a judge to vacate Chatman’s conviction. He was released after about 11½ years in custody.
The alleged victim never backed off her claims that she was raped or that Chatman was her attacker.
Then last year Chatman filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago and a number of officers. Not long ago, his lawyers added Kato as a defendant in the lawsuit. Kato has been the target of numerous complaints alleging excessive force and the subject of newspaper articles that date to the early 1990s.
In a 1993 Tribune article, police said Kato was a frequent target because he was so successful at persuading suspects to confess.
Kato, who is now retired, said in a sworn deposition recently that he had no recollection of the case or of Chatman, according to Ainsworth of the Loevy & Loevy law firm.
Lawyers for the city have questioned the authenticity of the letter sent to the police internal affairs office, suggesting that it was written by Chatman’s wife at the time — though estranged, she had supported his innocence claim, according to Ainsworth.
That seems unlikely to Ainsworth, who said the anonymous complaint was sent in an interoffice mail envelope to a specific internal affairs officer and noted that Kato had a long history of complaints against him. What’s more, the Office of Professional Standards investigation did not cast doubt on the letter’s authenticity, he said.
OPS officers dismissed the complaint, according to the internal documents, because they did not see Kato’s name on the list of the detectives who worked on the case, no medical records documented injuries to Chatman, and Chatman’s account of his interrogation differed from the purported whistleblower’s version. The complaint said that Kato “beat” the suspect, while Chatman said in the OPS documents that he was hit once in the head.
“Why would both Carl Chatman and the anonymous detective point the finger at Kato? Why would they do that unless that person was involved?” said Ainsworth, especially given that Kato’s name didn’t appear on the police reports. “This isn’t someone trying to air dirty laundry in public. It’s sent in channels. They’re trying to get the department to deal with it.”
The documents do not indicate that OPS investigators questioned Kato, although they took a statement from Chatman.
In the letter, the anonymous writer said he or she was an officer/detective in the Harrison District and “it would not be in my best interests to reveal my identity.” While there were numerous complaints against Kato, the writer said, “what I am about to tell you is not a district norm.” The writer did not name Chatman but identified him as the suspect in the rape and noted that he was homeless.
When Chatman insisted he did not know anything about the crime, the writer said, “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. That blow I thought would kill him for sure.”
The writer also said that Chatman did not know what he was signing when he signed the confession and claimed that Kato knew Chatman was innocent but that he had to find someone to be held “accountable.”
“Kato stated that ‘they wanted someone to be accountable, so I gave them someone,'” the letter said. “‘He’s homeless anyway, at least now (laughingly) he’ll get three meals a day. That’s my contribution to help feed the homeless.’ “