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Illinois: Exonerated Sex Offender Sues for Wrongful Conviction

An Illinois man who was wrongfully convicted of a sex offense, and released from prison after his supposed victim was discredited, has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago, the Chicago police department and other defendants as a result of his 2002 conviction for a rape he did not commit. In the meantime, Carl Chatman, 59, has had to defend himself against the faulty bookkeeping of Illinois’ sex offender registry.

Chatman was released from prison in 2013 thanks to the efforts of the Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. The prosecution did not oppose his certificate of innocence; in fact, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office provided hard copies of Chatman’s release documents to the Illinois Department of Corrections, and prison officials claimed they entered a “Court Ordered Discharge” into the state’s criminal database – though they failed to indicate the reason for the discharge. As a result, Chatman’s name continued to appear on the sex offender registry and he was later arrested for failure to register.

“The whole thing is kind of a mess, and it really ought to be cleaned up and fixed so this kind of thing doesn’t happen,” said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions. “[T]he government maintains the database. If they are going to maintain [it] and make it public, then they have an obligation to make sure that it is accurate,” he stated. Warden went to the police station and Chatman was released shortly thereafter.

Chatman’s attorney, Russell Ainsworth, with the law firm of Loevy & Loevy, dismissed the state’s claim that it was the responsibility of the defendant to ensure that his records had been changed.

“It is asinine to put the impetus on the exonerated person that now that you have been absolved of a crime, you have to absolve yourself from being on the [sex offender] registry,” he noted.

In Chatman’s lawsuit, the mentally challenged, once-homeless veteran alleges that police and the assistant state’s attorney coerced him into confessing to the rape of a courtroom clerk. Further, the complaint contends, prosecutors withheld key evidence that would have cast doubt on the credibility of the alleged victim of the attack.

 “Carl Chatman spent more than 11 years in prison for a rape he did not commit,” the lawsuit charges. “Not only did Mr. Chatman not commit the rape for which he was wrongfully convicted, but the rape never even occurred at all. The purported victim made up an account of having been raped in Chicago’s Daley Center so that she could bring a lawsuit for money damages against the company responsible for the building’s security.”

 “After the purported rape victim made up the story of having been attacked in the Daley Center, the defendants proceeded to ‘solve’ the crime,” the complaint continues. “Specifically, in their zealousness to obtain a swift conviction in a high-profile case, the defendant Chicago police officers took advantage of Mr. Chatman’s mental instability and coerced him to falsely confess to a crime that never actually happened.”

Chatman, who previously had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and has a low IQ, was arrested on the same day that the supposed victim, Susan Riggio, was attacked. Police “took advantage of his diminished capacity and mental vulnerabilities” to force him to sign a false confession, and Cook County Judge Michael Toomin sentenced Chatman to the maximum 30 years in prison, calling the crime “an outrageous assault on a public employee,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Prosecutors used Chatman’s confession to secure his conviction even though security cameras never recorded him entering or leaving the Daley Center on the day of the attack and no DNA evidence – semen, hair or any other genetic material from Chatman, or anyone else for that matter – was discovered on Riggio’s person. In addition, Riggio claimed that she bit Chatman and urinated on him and that he held a pair of scissors to her throat, but police never found any of her DNA on him or any fingerprints on the scissors.

As it turned out, the false accusations against Chatman were not the first brought by Riggio.

“This marked the second time this same woman had fabricated rape charges in order to bring a legal action against a building security company for illicit financial gain,” Chatman’s lawsuit argues. “At the time, Defendant Riggio was also under severe financial pressures. She and her husband had been gambling heavily, and had experienced over $500,000 in losses in the year 2000 alone. Defendant Riggio was also intent on divorcing her husband.”

As a result of these financial pressures, “Riggio concocted a plan to falsely claim that she had been raped inside the Daley Center, thereby enabling her to sue various entities responsible for the Daley Center’s security,” the complaint continues. “Defendant Riggio had engaged in the exact same scheme some 20 years earlier. In 1979, facing different financial pressures, defendant Riggio falsely claimed that she was raped inside a downtown office building in the early morning hours, before anyone else had arrived to work. Defendant Riggio then sued the building’s management and received a cash settlement.... Having succeeded in the 1970s with a bogus civil suit against a building manager based on a false accusation of rape, defendant Riggio decided to pull the same scam all over again. This time, Mr. Chatman was her victim.”

Even though Riggio started the chain of events, Chatman would not have been arrested and convicted except for the actions of the Chicago police and prosecution, the suit contends.

“The law enforcement defendants committed one or more of the following types of misconduct: coercing a false confession from Mr. Chatman; withholding material exculpatory evidence from Mr. Chatman; destroying exculpatory evidence; and fabricating inculpatory evidence that was used to help convict Mr. Chatman.”

There is also a suspicion that Chatman was beaten by a controversial former Chicago police detective, Kriston Kato, who was identified by a tipster as the officer who “hit [Chatman] with such a blow that last time that the suspect groaned from sheer pain and doubled over grasping [sic] for air,” according to an anonymous complaint filed by a police employee.

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

“Chatman was a very vulnerable individual with a low IQ and mental illness,” Ainsworth added. “It is very apparent to anyone who speaks to him that his thought processing is different than other people, and he was immediately placed in the acute psychiatric wing of the jail. The information in his confession came from the examining attorney and officers – it did not originate from him at all.”

According to Chatman’s lawsuit, Riggio settled her civil action against the Daley Center’s security company and Cook County for an undisclosed amount; authorities have said she cannot be charged with perjury because the statute of limitations has expired. The federal district court dismissed several of Chatman’s claims in March 2015, and his lawsuit remains pending on the remaining claims. See: Chatman v. Roberts, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:14-cv-02945.

Sources: www.correctionsone.com, www.courthousenews.com, http://chicago.suntimes.com, Chicago Tribune

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