CHICAGO (CN) - A homeless, mentally ill veteran spent 11 years in prison after Chicago police withheld exonerating evidence and coerced him into confessing to a rape in a downtown courtroom that never happened, the man claims in court.
Carl Chatman sued Chicago, 15 police officers, Assistant State's Attorney Brian Holmes, and others, in Federal Court.
"Carl Chatman spent more than eleven years in prison for a rape he did not commit," the complaint states.
"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 damage against the company responsible for the building's security.
"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.
"After the purported rape victim made up the story of having been attacked in the Daley Center, the defendants proceeded to 'solve' the crime. 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, now 59, is an Army veteran who in 2000, had "fallen on hard times. He was an easily confused and extremely vulnerable man," according to the 48-page lawsuit filed by Chicago attorneys Loevy & Loevy.
Chatman went to Chicago's Daley Center, a hub of government offices, to learn how to file a small claims suit in 2002. There, he accidentally walked into Judge Ronald Bartkowicz's courtroom, where he ran into Susan Riggio, who worked as a scheduling clerk for a judge.
"After a very brief interaction, Mr. Chatman left without incident. At the time, he was wearing a Blackhawks jacket and street clothes.
"Based on this encounter, defendant Riggio knew what Mr. Chatman looked like, and also knew that he was a defenseless and guileless individual, who would not fare well if falsely accused. He was, in short, the perfect target for her plan," the complaint states.
It adds: "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.
"Faced with these financial pressures, defendant 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.
"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."
A day after Chatman's visit to the Daley center, Riggio went to work early, and when a co-worker arrived at the office, reported that Chatman had "appeared with his penis exposed and said words to the effect of, 'the judge fucked me and now I'm going to fuck you, bitch,'" the lawsuit states.
"According to defendant Riggio, she fought with her attacker, screaming for help, and was then raped in her vagina and anus. She claimed that during the altercation, she fought for her life with her attacker, and had her head beaten against a table and scissors held to her throat."
Riggio described the attacker as a black man with salt and pepper hair wearing a Blackhawks jacket, whom she had seen in the building earlier in the week, Chatman says.
Police arrested Chatman that very day, and "took advantage of his diminished capacity and mental vulnerabilities" to force him to sign a false confession to the alleged rape.
Cook County Judge Michael Toomin sentenced Chatman to the maximum 30 years in prison, calling the rape "an outrageous assault on a public employee," the Chicago Tribune reported.
In a victim impact statement, Riggio told Toomin that she became a different person after the attack. "When Carl Chatman raised the scissors and threatened to put my lights out, I prayed to my God to spare me," she said.
Chatman was convicted based on his confession, though he never appeared on any security camera entering or exiting the Daley Center that day, and no semen, hair or any other genetic material from Chatman - or anyone else - was found on Riggio's body.
She claimed she bit Chatman and urinated on him during the attack, but none of her DNA was found on him. Police were unable to find any fingerprints on the scissors Chatman allegedly held to Riggio's throat.
A security officer sleeping in the room next door to where the attack allegedly took place did not hear anything until police responded to Riggio's allegation, but this evidence was withheld from Chatman's defense, according to the complaint.
Chatman's attorney, Russell Ainsworth with Loevy & Loevy, told Courthouse News in an interview: "The attack allegedly happened at 7:25 a.m. in the morning when the building is closed to the public. No one could account for how Carl Chatman was able to vacate the building before it opened to the public at 8:00 a.m., and most exits are covered by video. At 7:40 a.m., just before the building is opened, the whole building is on lockdown and they do a floor by floor search. Even if it was a mistaken identity, they'd find some other homeless guy wandering around wearing a Blackhawks jacket. Every exit is guarded by deputy, and on that day every deputy was asked if they saw anyone meeting the description and found no one. Traffic was very light since this was the Friday before Memorial Day. Also, the allegation that he hid in the Daley Center all night is implausible since guards sweep the building during the night, and no janitorial staff saw him as well."
Chatman's trial defense never found out about Riggio's similar 1979 allegations of rape. That alleged attacker spoke no English, contradicting Riggio's description of the attack, but fled to Poland before he could be arrested. The building management settled Riggio's claims.
Chatman claims in the lawsuit: "Although defendant Riggio set the ball in motion, Mr. Chatman's wrongful conviction could not have occurred without the other defendants' malfeasance.
"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," he says.
Ainsworth told Courthouse News: "Chatman was a very vulnerable individual with a low IQ and mental illness. 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."
Riggio settled her civil lawsuits against the security companies working in the Daley Center and Cook County for an undisclosed amount, according to the complaint.
Chatman last year obtained a certificate of innocence, without opposition from the state's attorney.
The government cannot sue Riggio for perjury, because the four-year statute of limitations has passed.
When questioned about Chatman's ability to tell a jury what really happened 11 years ago, his attorney said: "He'll be able to testify and tell a very compelling story to the jury about what it's like to be an innocent man, being interrogated throughout the day. He didn't confess throughout the day, and only by night he caved in and agreed to regurgitate the story that had been given to him."
Chatman seeks punitive damages for forced self-incrimination, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, failure to intervene, emotional distress, and defamation.