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CPD officer sentenced to 5 years in Iowa

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Chicago Police officer has been sentenced to five years in prison. He says he was defending himself against a drunken attacker while off-duty in Iowa. A judge in Dubuque, Iowa, says the police officer should have simply run away.

Patrolman Mike Mette was convicted of felony assault. He has been removed from the Chicago Police Department and faces a stiff prison term in Iowa.

"I feel it's a complete miscarriage of justice," said Officer Michael Mette.

The case raises questions about fairness and just who was the victim.

This is not just a question of whether the punishment fits the crime. Chicago Police Officer Mike Mette says there was no crime. Nevertheless, a judge in Iowa this week sentenced Mette to five years behind bars for slugging a Dubuque college student, even though the judge admits Mette was being attacked at the time. No one is disputing the facts of the case of what happened that night, only the outcome is being questioned.

"My younger brother Marc was living in Dubuque, he went out there for his 25th birthday," said Michael Mette.

The party weekend took place October, 2005, near the University of Dubuque campus. Eleventh District Chicago Patrolman Mike Mette, 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," said Michael Mette.

Michael Mette says 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," Michael Mette 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," said Michael 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," Michael Mette said.

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

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, Dubuque County Judge Monica Ackley found that Chicago Police Officer Mike 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.

On Monday, Mette was sentenced to five years in prison.

"The court has no discretion in that matter. It's mandatory incarceration," said Gallagher.

Jake Gothard wasn't charged, although he has since been arrested for driving under the influence. He returned to compete in college golf tournaments and, apparently, to the party circuit, having displayed dozens of drinking photos on his Facebook page.

Jake Gothard, the official victim in the case, agreed to an interview Friday but then backed out on advice of his lawyer because he says they plan a civil suit against Officer Mette.

Former Officer Mette, who has been placed on unpaid status, is off the job as he appeals the conviction and sentence in Iowa.

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