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July 16, 2007
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Editorial: Chicago officer's sentence is hogwash

The following is an editorial that appeared in the Chicago Tribune July 15, 2007

By John Kass
The Chicago Tribune
Chicago officer sentence to 5 years for off-duty fight

In an Iowa criminal case that smells of a thousand hogs, a young Chicago police officer was sentenced last week to 5 years in prison for defending himself against an attack by two large, drunken men, even though he testified that he repeatedly tried avoiding a fight.

There is a U.S. Department of Justice office in Iowa. What is happening to Chicago police officer Michael Mette bears some serious federal inquiry.

Dubuque District Court Judge Monica Ackley agrees Mette was attacked, he tried to avoid conflict, two large men hounded him down the street, and one of them got into Mette's face and began pushing him, repeatedly, before Mette threw one punch and knocked the guy out.

Still, she's sentencing this young Chicago cop to prison, she wrote, because that's the law in Iowa.

Mette has no clout in Dubuque. But Dubuque is a small town, and the intoxicated man's daddy is a boss in a giant Iowa trucking company.

Early last Thursday morning, I spoke with Mette, a four-year police officer in the Harrison District, and his father, Bob Mette, a veteran detective now running the Cook County state's attorney's sex crimes investigation unit. I asked Mike Mette about prison.

"To tell you the truth, it is not something I think about," he said about the sentence he will begin serving in October if an appeal isn't successful. "I am assuming I am going to get my ass kicked once the inmates find out I am a police officer."

There was no trembling on his face, no Oprah moment, just a straight look, a cop's look: "I know it's not going to be easy. Not thinking about it has kept me sane."

Mette told me his story. But these facts are also in court documents and Judge Ackley's written ruling.

Mette and his brother Marc, a former student at the University of Dubuque, along with a few other friends, were in that town for Marc's birthday on Oct. 8, 2005. They had a few drinks and heard about a house party. When they arrived, two college students at the door said the beer was downstairs, for $5 a head. They went down to check out the party.

"There was absolutely nobody in the basement," Mette told me. "There was a keg in the corner. Nobody there. We took a look, and said, let's get out of here."

That took about a minute. They did not drink a drop. They left.

But the kegger host, Dubuque University golfer Jacob Gothard, became enraged and started calling them "ignorant and offensive names," the judge ruled.

Gothard had been drinking heavily for hours. His blood alcohol level would later be measured as .310, almost four times the legal limit in Illinois. No matter what side of the Mississippi you're on, that's blind drunk.

Gothard shouted that he would call police and brandished a cell phone; then, Gothard told police, he couldn't find the phone -- he assumed someone stole it.

Mette, 30, who is about 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, left with his brother and a couple others, including a 5-foot, 8-inch friend of theirs, Chris Tanner. They walked down the street to Marc Mette's home. Just then, Gothard, who is about 6 feet, 2 inches and his roommate, Nicholas Boyd, a 6-foot, 8-inch, 240-pound basketball player from Downers Grove, chased them.

Gothard ran up to Mette and pushed him, hard, with both fists in the chest, "at least two times, maybe three," Judge Ackley wrote. After repeatedly trying to avoid a fight, Mette felt he had no choice. He threw a punch. Gothard was knocked unconscious to the ground.

Prosecutor Timothy Gallagher said that Gothard was severely injured and had to be airlifted to a hospital. The prosecution's case was that Gothard was near death, suffering from a broken jaw, and nose and bleeding on the brain. He was hurt, certainly, but if he hadn't liquored up and chased strangers and pushed them, he would have been fine.

A few months afterward, Gothard was posting killer golf scores for the college golf team. So he wasn't that injured. He was drunk, yet prosecutors didn't pursue that angle.

"When his cell phone disappeared, that's what put him out into the public [way]," Gallagher said, suggesting it's OK to charge down the street in a drunken rage and push strangers. "His claim was that he was the victim."

Jake's father, Curt Gothard, did not return a phone call. He spent more time in court than his son, who, when he wasn't posting great golf scores, was posting high levels of intoxication. After his dust-up with Mette, Jake Gothard was convicted for driving under the influence.

Gothard will golf. Boyd will dribble a basketball. And Mike Mette will go to prison.

"It's been a two-year nightmare," said Mike's father, Bob. "My stomach has got to have a hole the size of the Grand Canyon."

Iowa is celebrated for corn, for decent people, and for that fantasy baseball park built on a farm at the end of a dirt road, with the baseball immortals stepping out from the cornstalks whispering, if you build it, they will come.

Mette played baseball in college. But what's happening to him isn't about Iowa baseball mythology. It doesn't smell of corn.

It stinks of the pig barn.

Full story: Editorial: Chicago officer's sentence is hogwash






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