After spending 11 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, Carl Chatman filed suit last month against his accuser, Susan Riggio, and the police officers who allegedly withheld evidence that would have cleared him.
The alleged attack happened in one of the most prominent, politically sensitive buildings in the city — the Daley Center — instantly making it a “heater case” of the time, with blanket media coverage and intense pressure for the alleged crime to be solved.
Unbeknownst to most, though, 20 years earlier Riggio had made a strikingly similar accusation about a supposed attack on her at another very prominent downtown building. Before that case went to trial, Riggio, extracted a monetary settlement from the building management. The alleged attacker in the earlier case was a person with few resources to defend himself in a serious legal situation – a recent Polish immigrant of moderate means who spoke almost no English.
Similarly, in May 2002 Carl Chatman was another easy target. A homeless, mentally ill black veteran, Chatman “was a defenseless and guileless individual, who would not fare well if falsely accused,” according to the new suit against Riggio. Riggio was a scheduling clerk for Judge Bartkowicz in the Daley Center at the time. Chatman came to Bartkowicz’s courtroom looking for assistance, so Riggio knew what he looked like.
As in 1979, Riggio was under intense financial pressure that needed a quick fix – she had recently learned the IRS was auditing her and knew that she had failed to disclose $500,000 in income. . Compounding her troubles, she and her husband were gambling hundreds of thousands of dollars at the time.
The alleged attacks in 1979 and 2002 were remarkably similar. In both instances Riggio inexplicably showed up extremely early for work, when no witnesses would be around, and the rape (supposedly by men with no history of violent behavior) allegedly occurred shortly thereafter.
In 2002, Riggio showed up an hour and a half early even though her boss was out of town that day, it being the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend. When one of Riggio’s co-workers, arrived at work, Riggio claimed that she had been attacked. Within 15 minutes of the end of the attack, police locked down the building and began a room to room search. Riggio described her alleged attacker as an African American man in a Blackhawks jacket, matching the description of Chatman, and police blanketing the downtown area picked him up an hour later.
Even though detectives eventually extracted a “confession” from the hapless Chatman, allegedly feeding him details of the supposed crime to lend veracity to the confession, the case against Chatman should have rapidly fallen apart.
The alleged rape occurred before 8 AM, when the Daley Center is closed to the public. Nevertheles, none of the ten guards on duty observed Chatman that morning either entering or exiting the building and he didn’t appear on any of the security cameras trained on the exits.
Moreover, there was no physical evidence on Riggio – abrasions, cuts or bruises — of the brutal rape she allegedly suffered, according to physicians who examined her. Later DNA analysis of Riggio’s body and clothing found no evidence of Chatman’s DNA on it. Nor did Chatman’s clothing show evidence of Riggio’s DNA on it, even though Riggio claimed to have urinated on him during the attack. Chatman’s fingerprints were nowhere to be found at the alleged crime scene, including on the scissors that he allegedly held to Riggio’s throat.
Worse for Riggio, unbeknownst to her, a Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy was in a room next door at the time of the alleged loud, violent attack, and heard no such attack. But the fact a witness knew this information was allegedly concealed from Chatman’s defense counsel by officers and prosecutors at the time of his criminal trial.
In the years since his Chatman’s conviction, false confessions by vulnerable individuals under police pressure have become known to be common. News about the deputy, held in “street files” hidden from the defense, finally came out.
But in the meantime, “Mr. Chatman lost over a decade of his life before he was finally exonerated,” according to the new suit against Rigio and the defendant officers and prosecutors. “During that time, his wife divorced him, family members died, and Mr. Chatman was falsely branded a rapist and incarcerated alongside some of the most dangerous prisoners in our penal system.” Mental health treatment and other services due him as an honorably discharged veteran were not available.