August 3, 2008
Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis and Cook County State's Atty. Dick Devine have asked Iowa Gov. Chet Culver for justice in the case of Chicago cop Mike Mette.
"It just seems that it's a miscarriage of justice," Weis told me late last week after writing a letter to Culver. "I just want the governor to take a look at the case and maybe he'll see the same things we saw. I just don't think justice was served. The punishment doesn't fit the crime."
If there was a crime.
It doesn't seem that it was a crime. Not in America. Maybe in some other country, but not here. When someone attacks you, you have the right to defend yourself. Even in America.
Mette, a good cop with a good record, was in Dubuque in 2005 when he and his brother and friends ran into two angry drunks.
One of them attacked Mette, repeatedly, pushing and screaming, as Mette tried to get to the safety of his brother's Iowa apartment. Mette avoided the drunk, once, then twice. The third time, when the drunk punched him in the chest, Mike punched back. Once.
And for that he was sentenced to 5 years in prison. On Sunday, he'll have been behind bars for 280 days, for the crime of self-defense, or the crime of being a Chicago cop in Iowa. The prosecutors in Dubuque whine every time I write about this, and they often exaggerate their case to their local media so it won't smell so bad. A reasonable man might think that insider politics is at play.
Now the drunk is doing fine. He went back to the golf team in college, and kept bending his elbow, racking up a DUI and, later, another conviction for public intoxication. If he drives through a crowd, they might even make him stand in the corner for a couple of minutes.
The Iowa prison authorities won't even let me interview Mike. They turned me down last week. They said that since he's appealing his conviction, he can't speak to me. Amazing. It's their state, their rules. He's a cop in prison, and they don't want you to hear him.
If he could speak, he might be able to tell you what his dad told me. Bob Mette, an investigator in the Cook County state's attorney's office, reports that Mike's health is breaking down. A few weeks ago, he complained of a fever, and authorities told him nothing was wrong, to take laxatives, he'd be fine. Two days later, Mike's appendix burst.
Even worse, he's been denied a parole hearing. They say he's not yet eligible because he hasn't completed an anger-management course, and because of this he wasn't ready to be a law-abiding citizen again.
I mean no slight to the people of Iowa. Everything I've heard about Iowa has been good. For us in Chicago, Iowa is presented as if it's heaven. Low crime, good people, clean air, great pheasant hunting, great wrestling. When politicians talk about values, they mean Iowa.
So I can't believe Iowans would abide what's happened to Mike in the name of justice. And I can't believe—and won't believe—that the people of Iowa would abide any retribution against Mike in prison because I've written this.
But the politicians must be abiding some of it. They yanked Mike's parole hearing. They come up with their reasons. And here in Chicago, every cop keeps Mike in his or her heart.
Chicago cops understand politicians, how somebody's somebody gets pinched with a gun and drugs and gets walked out of the station by an alderman, while a cop just puts his toe over the line and gets crushed. They know about lack of support from the politicians who show up at their funerals with the bagpipes and the teary speeches, and then betray them, again and again.
And every time Supt. Weis goes to a meeting with his patrol and tactical officers—the real police who make the arrests—they ask him about Mette. He's become a symbol for them, a cop railroaded, at a time when police officers are often cast as villains.
"They ask, 'Is there anything you could do?' And after researching this a bit, we are sending a letter out asking the governor to make sure justice is served because I really believe this verdict is completely outside the guidelines for what happened," Weis said.
Weis, a former FBI supervisor who spent more than 20 years at the bureau, checked out the story thoroughly and checked Mette's background thoroughly.
"The fact that Mike is a police officer is immaterial in this case," Weis said. "He was assaulted three times and he took action against the guy who was assaulting him. I think the punishment that came down against him was totally inappropriate."
Devine sent a letter months ago, in January. In it, Devine, a veteran prosecutor, made similar points, asking for Gov. Culver's guidance, understanding and mercy for Mette.
Culver still has not bothered to respond to Devine's letter.
He might be too busy; he might have forgotten. More likely, an aide may have buried Devine's letter, and might bury Weis' letter.
But a good Chicago cop is buried too. In an Iowa prison. For the crime of self-defense.
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