Jail lawsuit plaintiff urges tax repeal

Timothy Chatmon is against the agreement that calls for building new jail

Chatmon’s attorney wrote a letter Sept. 24 that said Chatmon would be compensated after the jail was built in 2007 or later

If one listens to all Timothy Chatmon has to say, one walks away wondering whether it’s all true. Even Chatmon admits his story is amazing. However, the more one tries to verify what he alleges, the greater his credibility increases as facts are uncovered.

Although convicted in 1976 for armed robbery, and guilty of other offenses after that, Chatmon wants people to know he is not the person police and prosecutors portrayed during two trials in the 1990s. The charges and subsequent trials landed him in the Winnebago County jail and state prison for approximately 10 years. During that time, he became a plaintiff in two federal jail overcrowding lawsuits, which led to construction of the county’s new jail.

Chatmon said building a bigger jail will not address his concerns about overcrowding and that he did not authorize the 2003 agreement that calls for building the jail. He decided to voice his concerns because “I want to do what needs to be done to balance the scales of justice.”

Chatmon wants the tax repealed because he alleges the stipulation his attorneys, Thomas E. Greenwald and John F. Heckinger Jr., agreed to with the county’s attorney, Paul R. Cicero of Cicero and France, P. C., does not represent him, his son, a co-plaintiff, or the inmates in the jail.

Chatmon said he plans to fire Heckinger and Greenwald as his attorneys after he finds different representation.

Chatmon alleged, “They chose to make a deal that didn’t include me or the people in the jail. …I’ve been hoodwinked and deceived. …I believe the whole tax should be repealed. …All I see is a bunch of fat cats greasing their palms,” Chatmon complained.

As to whether he felt a bigger jail would address his concerns, Chatmon responded, “No.” He added that a larger jail will only further take its toll on a minority community that is already seething from the effects of decades of Rockford’s hypersegregation.

Chatmon alleged, “Heckinger said I would be paid as representative of the class,” after Heckinger and Greenwald received their money from the county. Winnebago County Board members voted last December to pay Chatmon’s attorneys $152,505.50 as part of the agreement that stayed the litigation until remedies are implemented.

The Rock River Times contacted Heckinger’s assistant early Sept. 24 for comment about this article. Heckinger did not return the message. However, Heckinger sent Chatmon a letter dated the same day that reads:

“As I have repeatedly advised you, when the case is ultimately concluded in 2007 or later, the issue of compensation for you and your son as class representatives will be addressed,” Heckinger wrote.

Chatmon also alleged Heckinger made a similar promise of compensation when Chatmon’s 1994 jail overcrowding lawsuit was considered part of a different overcrowding lawsuit at that same time. The 1994 case that was settled concerned inmate James Thomas.

Heckinger represented Thomas, who Chatmon alleged received money from Heckinger in return for Thomas’ cooperation with the lawsuit.

Chatmon said so far he has received nothing in return for his cooperation concerning both lawsuits. After learning of Chatmon’s petition objecting to the 2003 agreement, Chatmon said Heckinger telephoned him to say “my issues [such as personal injury claims] wouldn’t be settled until the jail was built,” Chatmon said.

Heckinger had his law license suspended 60 days earlier this year by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) on five counts of unauthorized use of his clients’ funds “for his own business or personal purposes.” He was also accused of failing to separate his money from his clients’ funds. Chatmon said he filed a complaint earlier this year with the ARDC about Heckinger’s action concerning the agreement.

Heckinger did not return messages for comment about this article.

‘Nullify the agreement and start anew’

Chatmon contacted The Rock River Times to speak his mind after following this year’s jail-related articles on our Web site from his Texas residence. After Chatmon read the Aug. 25 editorial, “Jail tax needs court challenge,” he decided it was time to actively inform Winnebago County residents of his story.

The opening line of the Aug. 25 editorial reads, “Fraud (noun): deceit; trickery.” It was this line Chatmon said resonated and motivated him to action. The opening line of the editorial corresponds with Chatmon’s own words in a May 12, 2004, petition Chatmon filed with the federal court to nullify the agreement that his attorneys’ and the county’s outsourced legal team forged to last year.

In that petition, Chatmon, speaking for himself and on behalf of his son, Timothy Chatman Jr., the other plaintiff in the 2000 federal jail overcrowding lawsuit, wrote: “Due to fraud and deception this agreement has been entered without consent or knowledge of the plaintiffs. …the only remedy is to nullify the agreement and start anew.”

Chatmon’s request to nullify the jail agreement was denied June 22 by Federal District Court Judge Philip Reinhard on grounds that his petition was untimely. Reinhard was Winnebago County State’s Attorney from 1968 to 1976.

The agreement stipulates that objections must be filed by Oct. 7, 2003. Chatmon’s petition was about seven months late.

Chatmon wrote in his amended petition that he didn’t learn of the agreement until January 2004. He said during a Sept. 24 interview that he wrote the petition in response to The Rock River Times’ Dec. 31, 2003, article, “County approves $152,505.50 for jail lawyers.”

Jail tax history

Chatmon was the plaintiff in two federal jail overcrowding lawsuits that concerned Winnebago County. The first case was in 1994, the second was in 2000. The latter case was extensively cited by public officials such as Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli and Sheriff Richard Meyers to persuade voters to approve a 16 percent increase in the county’s sales tax to pay for a new jail and implement criminal-justice remedies.

Logli and Meyers’ campaign for the tax was successful after voters approved the “public safety” referendum in November 2002 with 56 percent of the votes that were cast.

Accompanying Logli and Meyers’ efforts was a mostly unchallenged and well-financed advertising juggernaut for approval of the jail tax, which generated $46,285 in contributions during the last half of 2002. Cicero, the county’s attorney in the 2000 lawsuit, was also treasurer of the organization that campaigned for the jail tax called the Winnebago County Citizens for Public Safety 2002.

As dictated by the referendum, the county’s sales tax jumped from 7.25 percent to 8.25 percent on July 1, 2003. During its first year, the tax likely collected about $25 million, which is approximately $2 million more than expected, during a time many said the area’s economy was down.

The bulk of the jail tax money, or 77.9 percent, will go toward costs associated with construction, operation and maintenance of the proposed 1,212-bed jail. If completed as planned, the new jail will more than triple its current capacity of 394 inmates, and cost an estimated total between $127-$130 million.

Chatmon views the agreement and jail tax money as a money grab by special interests. He also wants people to know how the lawsuits evolved, beginning with his arrest on a 1989 Winnebago County murder charge.

Awaiting the pardon

Chatmon was arrested and jailed on Sept. 29, 1989, in connection with the murder of Billy Joe Simmons, Chatmon’s childhood friend. Based on jailhouse interviews with the prosecution’s only eyewitness, Lori A. Mullins, two others were also charged in the murder—Clementhis J. Lambert and Frederick R. Lambert.

Mullins was lodged in an Omaha, Neb., jail on prostitution charges at the time investigators interviewed her about Simmons’ murder. I

nvestigators eventually brought her back to Winnebago County for further interviews.

Authorities claimed all three of the men fired at Simmons, based on Mullins’ information. However, Clementhis Lambert was eventually tried and acquitted as the triggerman who killed Simmons in a separate trial from Chatmon and Frederick Lambert.

Chatmon said he and Frederick Lambert were convicted, again, based primarily on the testimony of Mullins. The Illinois Second District Appellate Court ruled in 1995 that Mullins committed perjury during her testimony against Chatmon and Frederick Lambert. The appellate court also supported 17th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Robert Copeland’s decision that threw out Chatmon’s conviction.

Frederick Lambert pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree murder in 1993, and he served a total of 56 months, with 40 months as time served.

After Copeland made his ruling, but before the appellate court issued its decision, Chatmon was released from jail on an appeal bond in February 1995.

Jorge Montes, chairman of the Illinois Prison Review Board confirmed Chatmon’s assertion that he awaits a pardon from Governor Rod Blagojevich on that conviction.

In one federal lawsuit, Chatmon alleged law enforcement agents and Logli conspired to frame him for Simmons’ murder. Logli denied there was any conspiracy by his office or law enforcement officials to frame Chatmon for the murder.

When asked why there would be a conspiracy to frame him for Simmons’ death, Chatmon paused and said, “That’s a good question, sometimes we don’t get answers.” He speculated, “I wasn’t too liked by the local authorities.”

First overcrowding lawsuit

While Chatmon was serving time on the murder charge in late 1993, Winnebago County voters defeated a proposed property tax increase to build a 300-bed addition to the jail. At that time, state law prohibited local sales taxes from being used for public safety issues.

However, former Winnebago County Sheriff Donald Gasparini told the Rockford Register Star in late 1993 that unidentified officials would push to change the law. At the time this article was published, it was not known what officials successfully lobbied for changing the law or when the change became effective. It is known that the law was changed sometime between 1994 and the end of 1997.

Chatmon said it was in 1994 that Heckinger first approached him about becoming a plaintiff in the first federal jail overcrowding lawsuit. Chatmon agreed because he wanted to remedy concerns he had relating to health and safety issues allegedly caused by conditions in the jail. He also alleged Heckinger promised him money in return for his cooperation with the lawsuit, but Heckinger never specified an amount of money.

Heckinger, on behalf of James Thomas, Chatmon and other inmates, filed the first lawsuit in 1994, which later gained class-action status. The county agreed to a settlement in that case in 1997, which Chatmon said he never approved.

The 1997 settlement specified a three-year moratorium on litigation. In return, the county would take necessary steps to place a 1/4 percent increase in the county’s sales tax on the ballot to pay for “additional correctional facilities having a rate or capacity of at least 200 beds and to fund the cost of personnel equipment needed to operate such a facility,” read court documents.

Heckinger and Greenwald claimed in the 2000 lawsuit that the county failed to implement the steps delineated in the 1997 agreement to alleviate the overcrowding, which prompted the second lawsuit when the moratorium expired.

Chatmon said he received notice of the 1997 settlement with Thomas as he sat in a cell at the Illinois River Correctional Center for a 1996 conviction on armed violence, weapon and drug possession charges. He ultimately served six years in jail and prison, in addition to three years on parole, for those charges.

However, Chatmon said the 1995 arrest and charges were not as police and prosecutors portrayed in court.

Arrested again

Chatmon was released on an appeal bond in February 1995, after Judge Copeland threw out Chatmon’s murder conviction, which Logli’s office appealed to the appellate court and lost. During the time Chatmon awaited the appellate court’s decision, he earned money at several jobs in Rockford including selling cars to acquaintances.

In fear for his life allegedly through parties related to the murder, Chatmon said he began carrying a handgun that was owned by his fiancée, to whom he is now married. During 1995, he also said he was regularly carrying and taking vitamins and occasionally caffeine pills.

On June 29, 1995, Chatmon said he was referred by an acquaintance to a man at a residence because the acquaintance thought the man might be interested in purchasing a vehicle. Chatmon said the acquaintance was an informant for the Metro Narcotics task force—a joint venture among local, state and federal law enforcement officials. Rockford Police Department Deputy Chief Dominic Iasparro was head of the Metro Narcotics task force at that time.

Minutes after Chatmon’s arrival at about 1:20 p.m., Chatmon said the narcotics task force raided the residence at 705 Corbin St. and made one arrest—his. However, the June 29, 1995, search warrant that authorized the raid indicates the residence was a suspected drug house that allegedly contained drug processing chemicals and equipment, firearms and ammunition.

Chatmon said police searched him and found his fiancé’s gun that he alleged prosecutors said at trial was stolen from Kentucky. Chatmon said police also found the vitamins and caffeine pills.

Chatmon’s booking report indicates he was in possession of cocaine. However, court records show he was tried and convicted for possession of heroin. When asked whether he was aware of the difference between the cocaine in the booking report versus the heroin for which he was convicted, Chatmon responded by saying he was unaware of the difference.

The discrepancy in the booking report is in spite of field tests included in testimony that gave a positive reaction for the probable presence of heroin.

Chatmon admitted to possessing the gun for protection, but maintains that it was not stolen as authorities claimed. He also zealously maintains, “I had no drugs on me” at the time he was searched by police, just the vitamins and caffeine pills, which he says he still takes regularly.

Asked why police would target him for another arrest while he was free on the appeal bond, Chatmon alleged: “The motive behind the second arrest was to cover up the first arrest [on Simmons’ murder]. After I was rearrested [on June 29, 1995], they dropped the murder case.”

Like the murder charge, Logli denied there was any conspiracy by his office or law enforcement officials to frame Chatmon on the weapon, armed violence and drug charges. Logli decided Nov. 30, 1995, after Chatmon’s second arrest in the 1990s, not to retry Chatmon for Simmons’ murder.

Chatmon was originally sentenced to 15 years for the 1996 conviction. However, that sentence was ruled unconstitutional. He was re-sentenced to 12 years of which he served six years in prison and three years on parole.

Soon after earning parole in December 2000, Chatmon and his wife left Rockford to start a new life in Texas, where they currently reside.

Second overcrowding lawsuit

It was during the time Chatmon was unsuccessfully appealing his conviction on the second arrest that Chatmon again retained Heckinger. Chatmon said Heckinger approached him in March 2000 about filing the second federal jail overcrowding lawsuit.

Similar to what occurred during the first overcrowding lawsuit, Chatmon alleged Heckinger said he would be paid for his cooperation with the litigation. However, Chatmon said his son, Timothy Chatman Jr., was added as a plaintiff in the lawsuit because “there was a threat that the suit would be thrown out because I was out of jail.”

At the time the threat to dismiss the case loomed, Chatmon’s son was in jail on aggravated battery

charges, armed robbery and firearms violations.

He explained his years in jail and prison wreaked havoc on his family by his not being present to positively influence his son. As a result, Chatmon implied his absence contributed to his son’s problems with the law.

He added that his son is currently serving time at Big Muddy Correctional Center in downstate Ina near Mt. Vernon. His projected parole date is in 2021.

Amended petition

In his amended May 12, 2004, petition, Chatmon wrote: “In support of this the plaintiff maintains due to fraud or other misrepresentation by counsel the attorneys John F. Heckinger and attorney Thomas Greenwald without advice or consent and without knowledge of plaintiff entered into a agreement that the plaintiff clearly did not consent to and were not made aware of until January 2004.

“Through no fault of my own and with due diligence did I recently learn the details of this settlement and in December notified attorney J.F. Heckinger that I objected to any settlement that neglected to mention and rectify my damages claim. That in June 2003, I at my own expense flew to Rockford and gave a deposition in this case.

“Attorneys Heckinger, Greenwald and defendant’s [Winnebago County] counsel Ronald Barch: these parties were fully apprised of this and my total desire to go to trial if necessary to substantiate my claim.

“It were further agreed by me and communicated to my attorneys that no settlement would be made without my express consent and this is a violation of a fiduciary responsibility and a breach of contract as it is clear from the original complaint,” Chatmon wrote.

In response to his petition and amended petition, Chatmon alleged Heckinger telephoned him to say Chatmon’s issues, such as personal injury claims, “wouldn’t be settled until the jail was built.”

Cook County’s jail overcrowding

Like Winnebago County, Cook County is also grappling with a federal jail overcrowding lawsuit. However, instead of reacting by building a larger jail as a first response, Chief Criminal Court Judge Paul Biebel recommended to the federal court at a hearing Aug. 25 that increasing the efficiency of the criminal justice system was probably the way to reduce overcrowding while meeting prisoners’ right to a speedy trial.

The hearing was reported in the Chicago Sun-Times Aug. 26 article, “County searches for way to reduce overcrowding.”

Chatmon is scheduled to be interviewed beginning at 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 29 on the Stephanie Caltergerone Show on WNTA radio, 1330-AM.

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