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Man cleared in rape case arrested for not registering as sex offender

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Updated: December 1, 2013 7:03AM



Freed last month after being locked up more than a decade on a wrongful rape conviction, Carl Chatman was getting ready for a cup of coffee and church Sunday morning when Berwyn police officers arrived at his door, handcuffed him and took him into custody — still in his pajamas — on the grounds he had failed to register as a sex offender.

Though he was released within two hours of being placed in a cell, the arrest left him and his family feeling victimized again by a criminal justice system that has already robbed the 58-year-old of almost a fifth of his life.

“He’s a free man,” said his niece, Monica Lofton, 24, who witnessed the arrest. “Let him live his life.”

“When is it going to be over?” asked his sister, Theresa Chatman, who worked more than 11 years to get him out of jail.

Reached Sunday after Chatman’s release, Berwyn Mayor Robert J. Lovero and Police Cmdr. Joe Santangelo said it appeared his detention was caused by a records snafu.

“I never want to see anybody brought in to a police station or arrested if there’s not some type of probable cause,” Lovero said.

Sex offenders have to register with the state after being released from prison. But in Chatman’s case, his conviction was “vacated,” which means the charges were dropped. Before the rape conviction, he had no prior record to speak of, except for minor offenses associated with being homeless and mentally ill, said Sally Daly, press secretary for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Chatman has a low IQ, bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia. He takes medication and speaks slowly and choppily. But he sounded deliberate Sunday when he said he knows what he’s going to do in the future.

“I don’t go for walks no more,” he said. “I think it’s a wise choice.”

Two relatives present during Sunday’s arrest said his jailing could have been avoided if the officers had been willing to read documents kept in a neat file in their home, proving he was cleared of the crime.

Instead, “As soon as I opened the door, they just bust in in their uniforms,” said Theresa Chatman. She said she counted seven officers.

“I thought it was SWAT.” When she asked for a warrant, “They even told me they would arrest me.”

“I said, ‘How are you a registered sex offender when you have a piece of paper [issued in September] from the state of Illinois saying that he should be released immediately and his sentence should be vacated ?’ ” Lofton said. An officer “immediately brushed me off and told me to shut up.”

Chatman’s attorney, Russell Ainsworth, went to the Berwyn Police Department Sunday to get him out of jail. “The seven police officers that rushed their way into Theresa’s apartment refused to look at that documentation,” he said.

Santangelo said his officers discovered Chatman was found to be unregistered while they were conducting regular quarterly checks to ensure documentation of local sex offenders.

Officers aren’t able to sort out details on the spot, Santangelo said. “Once we can verify through reviewing the paperwork and comparing it with what the computer was telling us….he was released immediately, but we cannot do that on the street.”

“I have asked the Berwyn police commander to direct all his officers that Carl Chatman is not a registered sex offender and they have promised to follow up with the Illinois state police,” Ainsworth said.

“If the paperwork states that he’s not in violation, then he definitely is a free man,” Santangelo said. “There’ll be no problems with the Berwyn Police Department.”

A woman accused Chatman of raping her at the Daley Center in 2002. In 1979, the woman alleged another man had sexually assaulted her in another downtown office building. She filed civil lawsuits seeking money in both cases, and Alvarez has questioned her credibility.

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