October 31, 2013

2 state databases still mistakenly call exonerated man a sex offender

See earlier story. So much for automation... Sounds like Obamacare website problems...
10-31-2013 Illinois:

Neither the state's Law Enforcement Agencies Data System nor the state's sex offender registry showed Chatman had been cleared

CHICAGO — When police arrested Carl Chatman this week — little more than a month after he was exonerated in a 2002 alleged rape — two state databases were mistakenly still calling him a sex offender.

Despite the publicity surrounding his release from prison after 11 years, neither the state's Law Enforcement Agencies Data System nor the state's sex offender registry showed Chatman had been cleared.

The glitch, according to government officials, is that the computer system used to record prison releases does not automatically allow entry of a reason for release, and no one asked that Chatman's record be manually corrected to show he had been cleared.

As a result, "sex offender registry required" remained in his file, and he was later arrested for failing to comply, officials said.

Advocates who have handled similar record-keeping mix-ups say the problem is that no agency is required to ensure the exonerated are cleared in those databases. They also point to lax oversight of the Illinois sex offender registry, which has long been decried for being inaccurate and incomplete.

The public website, which the Illinois State Police maintains but is not required to verify, includes several disclaimers, warning viewers that the information on the site may not be accurate or up-to-date, and it encourages anyone who believes the information is wrong to contact state police.

As a result, the burden of establishing an accurate record of release has often fallen on the wrongfully convicted person's lawyer, said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University's law school.

"The whole thing is kind of a mess, and it really ought to be cleaned up and fixed so this kind of thing doesn't happen," Warden said. "The government maintains the database. If they are going to maintain a database and make it public, then they have an obligation to make sure that it is accurate."

Relying on the inaccurate records, Berwyn police arrived at Chatman's home Sunday, arrested him for failing to register as a sex offender and then locked him up for roughly two hours until his lawyer was able to get to the station to again prove his client's innocence.

Chatman, 58, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for an alleged May 2002 rape of a county employee at the Daley Center. But last month, Cook County prosecutors made the stunning announcement that they doubted the credibility of the woman who brought the allegations against Chatman and no longer believed the sexual assault even took place.

Chatman, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and has a low IQ, was released from prison Sept. 10. The Cook County state's attorney's office notified the Illinois Department of Corrections' legal department of Chatman's exoneration via physical copies of the vacating order, government officials said.

The order was faxed to the prison to release Chatman, and the records department entered a "Court Ordered Discharge" into the computer. That entry automatically updated the state's Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, or LEADS, which notifies Illinois State Police, according to Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer.

The computer system, however, does not include a space to enter a reason for the discharge, and a manual change to the record would have to have been requested, Shaer said.

Anyone involved could have asked for the change, according to Shaer, who said that all Corrections Department procedures were followed.

"This was a special case, which didn't get special attention because special attention was not requested by the attorneys, by the family, by other entities involved. Nor was it requested within IDOC," said Shaer, calling the matter "highly unusual."

Chatman's name then appeared in LEADS as a sex offender on the state's registry, which Berwyn police used Sunday to make compliance checks, according to Chatman's lawyer, Russell Ainsworth.

Such a mistaken arrest is rare, according to advocates who have handled exonerations of sex crimes. Still, some names of those exonerated of sex crimes, which total roughly 60 people since 1989, have appeared on the sex offender registry after their cases were cleared, the experts said.

"You assume that when the conviction is vacated, removal from the registry would be automatic, but I've learned that's not the case," said Joshua Tepfer, a lawyer at the Center on Wrongful Convictions who said he has had to reach out to state police in his cases to have his client's names removed from the registry.

Although the sex offender database has long been criticized for inaccuracies, complaints have mainly centered on convicted offenders not being posted or on inaccurate offender addresses.

State police spokeswoman Monique Bond said individuals or their lawyers should notify the agency of any updates or errors on the site.

"If someone believes they are mistakenly placed on the list, they would contact us or the registering agency," Bond said.

But Chatman's lawyer said that responsibility should not fall on the wrongfully convicted.

"It is asinine to put the impetus on the exonerated person that now that you have been absolved of a crime, you have to absolve yourself from being on the registry," Ainsworth said.

On Monday, the Cook County state's attorney's office notified the Department of Corrections that Chatman's electronic file should be amended, according to state's attorney's spokeswoman Sally Daly. State police removed Chatman's name from the website. His status was also changed in LEADS.

Daly called the situation an "extreme case" but said the office planned to be "mindful moving forward of going the extra effort to make notifications." ..Source.. by Cynthia Dizikes, Chicago Tribune

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