Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Columnist's crusade puts Dubuque in bull's-eye

Over the past week and a half, Dubuque has received attention and criticism from supporters of Chicago police officer Michael Mette. An Iowa District Court judge recently convicted him of assault causing serious injury after a 2005 altercation initiated by Jake Gothard, a highly intoxicated college student hosting a paid-admission beer party in Dubuque.

The off-duty officer, who was visiting the city with his brother, says he acted in self-defense and delivered a single blow. The prosecution said there was more to it than that, and Judge Monica Ackley agreed.

Under Iowa law, conviction on this charge mandates five years of prison time. Judge Ackley does not have power to reduce the sentence or put the defendant on probation.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass took up Mette's cause with columns the past two Sundays. The first focused on Mette's account of the incident and railed against Ackley's decision and the sentence. Kass suggested that local clout influenced the case.

Since it involved Iowa, the column included the predictable allusions to pigs and corn.

His second column reviewed reaction -- positive and negative -- to the initial column and reported that Mette's supporters are mobilizing.

Kass said of Mette, "He's a young patrol cop being squeezed, and he can't believe it, and I can't believe it." Unlike a news reporter, a columnist has more latitude in telling the tale and in expressing his or her opinion.

At the TH, the court judgment was ticketed for a routine Tri-State Page brief. That would have been a mistake. There is more to it than a few paragraphs under a headline, "Off-duty Chicago cop convicted."

We published a couple of stories on the case last week, with special attention to Kass' column, criticism coming Dubuque's way and comments from prosecutor Tim Gallagher.

Kass' second column stated, "The local Dubuque newspaper, the Telegraph Herald, is calling me a 'legendary muckraker' who is 'training his scorn' on Judge Ackley."

That's correct. We did.

"That's awfully flattering," Kass continued. "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."

We weren't trying to flatter Kass, but we also were not using "muckraker" description in a perjorative sense. Muckrakers, a proud part of U.S. journalism history, investigate and expose corruption, injustice and fraud. These days, newsrooms don't have enough muckrakers to keep up with all the muck.

As for the age issue, Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, two celebrated muckrakers, wrote their best-known exposes when they were in their 40s.

Another legendary muckraker was the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko. His successor in that slot at the Tribune was John Kass.

Anyway, I'm not a lawyer or a judge. Assigning or absolving guilt in an alcohol-fueled altercation is not easy. Kass managed to do that, and I suppose that talent is one reason why he works in Tribune Tower and I hang out at Eighth and Bluff.

But I do know many folks involved in law enforcement and the courts here, and I don't believe that they are "homers," blindly taking the side of the local subject over an out-of-towner.

A couple of local defense attorneys told me that one under-emphasized issue in all this is mandatory sentencing. Even Gallagher says there was no appetite for sending a cop to prison. But that is required under Iowa law.

Mette is scheduled to report to prison -- a more dangerous scenario than usual, given his occupation -- in a few months. He is expected to appeal the conviction. As the case plays out, expect more criticism of Dubuque and Iowa. And references to pigs and corn.

-- From the Telegraph Herald, July 24, 2007

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The charging of officer Mette is a complete injustice.
1. Mette WAS PURSUED BY GOTTHARD for a block and a half.
2. Gotthard ADMITS PUSHING AND STRIKING "someone".
3. Gotthard was fortunate not to have sustained more injuries from the single punch, because there are many,many examples of one punch knockouts which cause massive damage when the unconscious person crashes to the ground WITH THEIR HEAD ACHIEVING THE HIGHEST VELOCITY since it is farthest from the ground. Don't believe me? On Youtube, put in the search term "UFC" +knockout.

Your column, and Dubuque, are on the wrong side of justice, Mr Cooper. Wake up. YOu're just wrong.

cookkenusa said...

I'm an impartial "muckraker" myself, having just picked up on this story this morning, first in Kass's column and now in this blog.
I have no knowledge of the court proceedings or course of events as they unfolded. Still, I'm compelled to find Mette at fault in the crime.
There is enough circumstancial evidence for a conviction on the charge.
Now then, seems to me that very early on in the proceedings some kind of plea could have been reached.
Perhaps an apology offered to Gotham would have changed the entire outcome.
At least kept it out of criminal court and all of that.
What did Mette feel would happen if the case went to trial. Innocent by a jury of his peers that would side with the sworn officer of the law and not the "kid?"
It was a crazy crapshoot if that were the case, on the part of Mette.
His attorneys should have pushed him to accept a plea agreement, a leeser charge with less harsh punishment and possibly no jail time.
Still there would have been and probably is some civil court issues that have to be hammered out.
"Sorry' seems to be the hardest word. E.John.

Anonymous said...

I would never visit Dubuque after what happened to Mike Mette...very scary.

Anonymous said...

Missing in all these discussions is what about the initial aggressor, Jake Gotthard. One of the wonderful things about time is that it catches up with everyone. Whether you agree or disagree with Mette's sentence, I hope we can all agree that this punk's initial drunken actions caused his own problems. Time will take care of it. If he stays a punk, he'll get it again from someone else. And probably next time, they won't wait around after they do the deed.

Anonymous said...

I seen Mr Gothard after the so called one punch, he had defensives bruises, cuts all over his forearms,chest and frontal area of his body. The damage was so massage, the local hospital had to airlift him to the University Hospital in Iowa City. I think five years was way to much time for this, and the felony was uncalled for, but only the 6 or 7 guys there know the true story.....Mr Mette did not do all the hitting and kicking, he just took the fall, probably because he thought he would get off because he was a policeman.....Just my theory
Joesph

Anonymous said...

I feel Mr Mette's deserves something but not 5 years and a felony!!! For all you people who are slamming Iowa, look at all your Chicago Police-people attacking and assaulting innocent people in the last 2 years. Caught on video tape in a bar, hitting and beating these people and then trying to cover it up!!! Mr Mette and his follower did more then a lucky "one punch" to Mr Gorhard!!! I can't help but feel sorry for all the parties involved, Mr. Gothard for all his pain and suffering and Mr Mette, for going to prison and probably losing his job.

Yossarian said...

The issue here is clearly mandatory sentencing.

Mette's conviction isn't an injustice in and of itself. In fact, he behaved exactly like off-duty Chicago cops behave all too often - he got drunk, beat up a citizen, flashed his badge when the real cops showed up in hopes of getting a little "professional courtesy", and then told the cops at least two implausible stories when the badge-flashing didn't work. In short, he simply forgot that he wasn't in Chicago; if he had been, the responding officers would have arrested his unconscious victim and taken him somewhere to sober up. I don't happen to think Mette ought to go to prison for five years for this, but the Iowa legislature thinks he should. In any case, he's not innnocent in any sense of the word.

In any case, as a citizen of Chicago for more years than I care to remember, I'm sorely pressed to find much sympathy for members of our police force who claim to be victims of injustice.