July 22, 2007
Michael Mette -- the young Chicago police officer sentenced to an Iowa prison for 5 years for the crime of defending himself against an angry drunk in Dubuque -- wanted to thank the readers of this column.
Last Sunday I told you about Mette trying to repeatedly avoid conflict, being chased down the street, then getting pushed hard by the drunk "two or three times," according to the judge's own ruling, before punching the drunk once. And for that he gets 5 years?"To all the people who read your column, words can't express how it makes me feel to have this much support," Mette said. "Everybody is calling. It's in the news now, and it's tough to describe how good the support makes me feel. I just want people to know that I appreciate them."
So many of you have called and written, I figured it was time for an update. But Mette doesn't have much time.
He's losing his job as a Chicago police officer. If something isn't done, he'll report for prison Nov. 9 and meet the inmates, who'll know he's a cop. Until then, there's the rest of the summer, and ripe September tomatoes, the World Series and crisp football Saturday mornings before the rains come. It could be an eternity for some, but not for a cop about to be imprisoned in Iowa for defending himself.
"Well, everybody seems to know about it now," said Mette, 30. "I just got a call from England from someone who saw your column out there. The support's been phenomenal, from all over. People are saying they can't believe this is happening."
And what do you say?
"I say I can't believe this is happening, either. But I'm going to prison for defending myself, for landing one punch on somebody who attacked me with both fists? That's what I can't believe."
A defense fund has been established, the Michael Mette Defense Fund, at Northwest Community Credit Union, 7400 N. Waukegan Rd., Niles, IL 60714. And Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police -- the police union -- has come to his side.
The Chicago Police Department won't say anything in his defense, and the paperwork is going through to fire him. If you've been following the news, you can understand the politics. City Hall has a police brutality/public relations problem.
But Mette's case began two years ago, long before another cop beat a bartender on video in an unrelated case. And Mette wasn't the initial aggressor, according to the ruling of sentencing Judge Monica Ackley. It's unfair to lump Mette in with those other brutality cases, as another newspaper in town did a few days ago.
If Mette were a City Hall political operative indicted on federal corruption charges, he wouldn't feel isolated. The mayor's guys would hold a fundraiser for him in a church basement, and serve Connie's Pizza on paper plates, and rake in a lot of cash, and chuckle as the guilty underlings are compared to the Holy Redeemer. That's not fantasy. That's exactly what happened after Chicago political hacks were convicted of federal crimes.
But Mike's no political operative. He's a young patrol cop being squeezed, and he can't believe it, and I can't believe it.
What I do believe is the predictable reaction from a few folks in Iowa. Not everybody, but some. They're upset that I've questioned the judgment of the judge and prosecutor. Who wants their judgment questioned in a newspaper? I wouldn't like it.
But we're talking about five years in prison for a police officer who tried to avoid a fight, and kept walking, only to be attacked, and he threw one punch to defend himself, according to the judge's ruling.
Iowa must be a wonderful place. I'd like to visit and hunt over a good bird-dog. And to entertain myself I'd watch national political reporters hang on every precious quote of the presidential candidates speaking about justice as they photo-op across the heartland.
Will the candidates, when they speak of justice, ever mention Mike Mette?
In the meantime, in Iowa, the prosecutor's nose is out of joint. The local Dubuque newspaper, the Telegraph Herald, is calling me a "legendary muckraker" who is "training his scorn" on Judge Ackley.
That's awfully flattering. But I use a hoe in my garden, not a rake, and I can't be legendary, since I've only just turned a sprightly 51, a mere child in my own mind. Another article says I skipped over facts, that we didn't bother to call prosecutor Timothy Gallagher, and that the victim's injuries were so severe he suffered four fractured vertebrae from the fight.
But in an interview with this column, Gallagher said the victim, Jake Gothard, did not suffer the fractured vertebrae after the punch, and that it was an old injury. According to the judge's finding of fact, while she determined his injuries were serious, "Jake's injuries were not as extensive as first believed."
Bob Mette, veteran detective and Mike's dad, said this:
"The prosecutors keep saying she was bound by the law to give him five years. That's correct as far as it goes. But here's the thing. The prosecutor was not bound by law to push the charge. And the judge was not bound by law to find him guilty. That's why this is so wrong."
And Mike Mette marks time, watching the days race past him toward November.
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