Chicago cop jailed in Iowa argues for reversal

Glimmer of home as policeman is in Appeals Court
September 11, 2008 4:35:51 PM PDT
For the first time since he was locked up in an Iowa prison, Chicago policeman Mike Mette has heard some encouraging words from an Iowa official.During Thursday's appeals court hearing on his controversial assault conviction, Iowa Justice Terry L. Huitnick seemed to support Mette's contention that he acted in self-defense.

Justice Huitnick said, "It's impossible to conceive under the circumstances" that Mette could have done anything other than protect himself, when a drunken man chased him down a Dubuque street and attacked him. "It appears to me that the folks were in such close contact that it would have been impossible to escape."

Officer Mette was asking Iowa's Court of Appeals to reverse his conviction and dismiss the assault charge against him, claiming it was self-defense.

As the ABC7 I-Team first reported two years ago, Mette was charged after a 2005 incident in which he punched Dubuque student Jake Gothard. Both men had been drinking. Gothard was determined to have been the aggressor in the early morning street fracas, but was not charged. Mette, who attempted to walk away from Gothard several times before slugging him, was convicted and sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary.

Mette's attorney Mark McCormick argued Thursday that it was nothing more than self-defense when Mette punched Gothard. "Is it logical to think in the heat of the moment that Mr. Mette should stop and talk to Mr. Gothard?" McCormick asked the court. "That is out of the realm of reality."

Prosecutors countered that Mette should have continued to ignore the aggression by Gothard or called Dubuque. State attorney Linda Hines argued, "The court found [Mette] had other options. He was pushed. He hit back. He hit so hard that Mr. Gothard was knocked unconscious and fell backward."

Appeals court Justice Huitnick appeared skeptical about Hines' claim, asking her if she was suggesting that in the brief period in which the altercation occurred that Mette could have done something else. The court was not expected to issue a ruling today.

After Mette was convicted of felony assault, he was removed from the Chicago Police Department. Top city law enforcement officials have recently pressured Iowa authorities to reconsider the case. Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine, Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis and others wrote to Iowa Governor Chet Culver, imploring him to pardon Mette.

A busload of his Mette's supporters, including Chicago police officers, went to Des Moines for the appeals court hearing. Some wore t-shirts proclaiming an "Injustice in Iowa."

"We come as a band of brothers," said Chicago Police Commander John Kupczyk. "We're seeking justice."

Retired Officer Clyde Brandenburg said, "This is wrong, totally wrong. Even if he did it."

Mette's mother Patricia attended Thursday's hearing. "There's nothing any of us can do. They believe in Michael and the only way they could show their support was to travel here today," she said.

Patricia Mette and her husband Bob who was a Chicago police detective for 32 years, travel to see their son once a month. "I'm there for him when he needs me," she said. "We take it one day at a time and hope for the best."

As the ABC7 story first reported, Mette's case raised questions about fairness and just who was the victim. According to Mette, the case against him was not just a question of whether the punishment fits the crime. Mette says there was no crime. Nevertheless, a judge in Iowa sentenced Mette to five years behind bars even though she admitted Mette was being attacked at the time.

"My younger brother Marc was living in Dubuque, he went out there for his 25th birthday," said Michael Mette in the I-Team's original story.

The party weekend took place October, 2005, near the University of Dubuque campus. Mette, an 11th District Chicago patrolman, his brother Marc and several friends went to a late night beer party in a nearby home thrown by a pair of university students, one of them 20-year-old Jake Gothard. According to authorities, Gothard was extremely drunk at the time.

"Yelling, makin' derogatory comments about us being six guys with no women with us," Mette told us.

Mette said when he and his brother and their four friends tried to leave, Gothard became angry.

"He was just mad that we didn't want to stay and drink with him anymore," he said.

Gothard and his roommate began chasing Mette and the five other men, claiming they had stolen his cell phone, until they all ended up on the front lawn of Marc Mette's house.

"Mr. Gothard approached me and told me he was going to beat the crap out of me, and he actually hit me with his two fists like this in the chest. Hit me three times. I pushed him away from me. Told him to leave. He comes back at me a fourth time and that's when, you know, when I hit him. I hit him in the left side of the face," recalled Mette.

Moments later, when city police arrived on the scene, Gothard was still on the ground, having been cold cocked by Officer Mette's right hook. When Mette and the others described what happened, Dubuque Police arrested Mette, charging him with felony assault causing serious injury.

"Just because I am a police officer doesn't mean I'm supposed to take a beating," Mette contended in our 2006 interview.

"His conduct wasn't warranted," said Timothy Gallagher, assistant Dubuque County attorney at the time.

The prosecutor who brought charges against Mette says it wasn't self-defense.

"Mr. Gothard received, as I recall, numerous cuts, abrasion bruises, head/brain bleeds," said Gallagher.

When the case went to a bench trial in December 2006, Dubuque County Judge Monica Ackley found that Mette "was not the initial aggressor of this incident," Jake Gothard was. Nevertheless, Judge Ackley ruled that Mette was guilty, because even after Gothard struck him three times, Mette should have just ignored it and retreated.

"If I'm being attacked on my own property I should have the right to defend myself within reason," said Mette.

"The court has no discretion in that matter. Its mandatory incarceration," said DA Gallagher.

Jake Gothard wasn't charged, although he has since been arrested for driving under the influence. The I-Team learned that Gothard returned to compete in college golf tournaments shortly after the incident and also apparently returned to the party circuit, having displayed dozens of drinking photos on his Facebook page in 2006.


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