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Thursday, May 5, 2005 05:12 pm

To tell the truth

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Tommy Munoz spent 70 days in prison and lost his job after he was arrested based on an affidavit that he says was based on a false statement by detectives
PHOTO BY NICK STEINKAMP

Springfield Police detectives recently accused of misconduct are again the subjects of a complaint, this time from a Divernon man who claims one of the officers made a false statement to secure a warrant for his arrest.

In December, detectives from SPD’s major case unit arrested Thomas Munoz for the attempted burglary of a Rochester church. The arrest allowed them to interrogate Munoz about the Dec. 21 beating of Monsignor Eugene Costa in Douglas Park.

Police quickly determined Munoz had no connection to the Costa beating and subsequently charged two other individuals for the crime. The burglary charge against Munoz was also dismissed.

But just clearing his name doesn’t satisfy Munoz. He’s on parole, so the arrest sent him back to prison. As a consequence, he says, he lost the best paying job he has ever had, along with any hope for respect in the community where he was trying to make a fresh start.

“I was trying to change my life, and as with every change in life it is a process and not an easy one or one that occurs overnight. Next thing you know, there’s detectives at my door saying my name came up in their investigation of the Costa beating,” Munoz says.

The arrest was carried out by SPD detectives Jim Graham, Paul Carpenter, and Rick Dhabalt. In recent months, a private investigator and a defense attorney have gone to SPD’s Internal Affairs office and accused Graham and Carpenter of misconduct. The investigator, Bill Clutter, claimed the two detectives concealed relevant police reports and intimidated a mentally-handicapped defense witness during the November 2004 trial of Anothony Grimm, charged with the 1994 murder of Tonia Smith [see “Credibility question” Feb. 24]. Clutter also accused Graham of perjury, citing the detective’s sworn testimony that he had made no report of a witness interview, moments before producing such a report from his “personal folder.” Grimm was acquitted.

News of Clutter’s complaint prompted defense attorney Bruce Locher to renew allegations he had filed in 2001 against Carpenter, Graham, and another SPD detective, Steve Welsh [see “Fast track” April 21]. Locher’s complaint encompassed three separate cases in which misconduct by the detectives resulted in the dismissal of felony charges and at least one defendant being released from prison. In one case cited by Locher, a federal appeals court found testimony by Carpenter and Welsh to be so “replete with inaccuracies, to put it mildly” that it deemed the accused drug dealer on trial to be “more credible than the officers.”

Last month, SPD Police Chief Don Kliment said Locher’s complaint would be investigated. “We take all complaints very seriously,” he said. This week, when asked about Munoz’s allegations, Kliment declined to comment. However, sources inside the department say complaints from Clutter and Locher are currently under investigation.

Munoz says he tried to file an official complaint with Deputy Chief Robert Williams at SPD’s Internal Affairs, but was told he should talk to the state’s attorney’s office instead. Williams did not return a phone message requesting an explanation of Munoz’s story.

Steve Weinhoeft, the assistant state’s attorney who filed the attempted burglary charge against Munoz, says SPD detectives told him Munoz had committed “similar” church break-ins in Chicago.

“It was going to be an MO case. We were going to have to obtain records from Cook County to show that’s his modus operandi ,” Weinhoeft says. “I did check the DOC [Department of Corrections] Web site myself and see that he did have prior history of burglarizing places of worship. And I was assured by SPD that there were additional records we would be getting from Cook County.”

When those records failed to materialize, another assistant state’s attorney dismissed the charges, setting Munoz free.

The charge apparently originated as a “suspicious person” report taken by Rochester police. According to the report, a member of St. Jude Catholic Church saw a suspicious man, later determined to be Munoz, attempting to open doors into the reception hall and the rectory on the evening of Dec. 18. When confronted, Munoz explained he was trying to deliver a Christmas decoration to Father William Carpenter (apparently no relation to Detective Paul Carpenter). He retrieved the decoration from his car, gave it to the church member, and drove away.

Two days later, Fr. Carpenter reported the incident to Rochester police, after the church member told him Munoz was on parole for church burglaries. The report outlines Munoz’s history, but Rochester Police Chief Bill Marras said it didn’t prove Munoz was attempting to burglarize St. Jude’s.

“If we had enough to make an arrest, we would’ve come out and arrested him. I was aware he’s got a history, but that’s got nothing to do with this case,” Marras says.

The complaint used to obtain an arrest warrant is a Dec. 30 statement from Graham, in which he swore that Munoz “knowingly attempted to enter the rectory of St. Jude Catholic Church. . . with the intent to commit a felony or a theft therin.”

The fact that Springfield police arrested Munoz in Divernon for a crime that occurred in Rochester is something Marras says he can’t explain.

“I can only assume that there’s more information out there than we have in that report, because that’s not enough to arrest somebody. Nor did we have a crime that took place,” Marras says. “There was no crime in that report.”

Munoz insists he was only trying to deliver a poinsettia to a priest, and says if he had wanted to burglarize St. Jude’s, he wouldn’t have tried it at 5:30 on a Saturday evening one week before Christmas with mass going on in the sanctuary.

“If I was gonna break in a place, believe me, I would’ve been in there and you would not know I was there,” Munoz says. “I’ve been charged with four burglaries, and I pled guilty to all four of them. Here’s a little bullshit attempted burglary. Why am I gonna lie to you and tell you I ain’t did it?”

Munoz doesn’t pretend to be a saint. He says his name surfaced in the Costa investigation because he has been sexually active with several local priests — charges he outlined in salacious detail for the Roman Catholic Faithful investigator in December.

But whether there’s any truth to those claims or not, Munoz’s criminal history is well-documented. Sent to prison in 1988 on minor drug and intimidation convictions, he managed to turn a two-year sentence into 12 years of hard time by escaping with five other felons (known as “The Joliet Six”) from a maximum-security unit. Quickly recaptured, Munoz earned an even longer sentence by causing “great bodily harm” to a prison employee.

He claims he tried to go straight when he was freed in 2000, but unable to resist the lure of his old gang, Satan’s Disciples, in Chicago.

“Same people, places, and things will get you same consequences,” Munoz says. “I was saying that I was gonna change, and I was wanting to change, but I wasn’t putting much effort into it.”

In 2002, he burglarized Resurrection Parish, the church across the street from his gang’s hangout, after the priests there found and refused to return a pair of pistols Munoz had hidden in the shrubbery. As “chief of security” for his gang, Munoz had to come up with money to pay for the guns, and he figured if the priests wouldn’t give him his pistols, he would make the church underwrite replacements. During a one-week span of April and June in 2003, he entered the church four times through an open window and stole cash and a laptop computer.

Munoz pleaded guilty to all four burglaries, and went back to prison.

When he was paroled in December 2003, he knew he had to mend his ways if he wanted to avoid being labeled “habitual criminal.” Besides, he says, “I’m too old for this [expletive].”

Thinking a change of environment would help, he moved to Divernon, as caretaker of an elderly friend, and got a job with a Springfield catering company, making $10 an hour — more than he had ever made in his previous jobs working on a garbage truck and at a foundry — doing something he says he truly enjoyed.

“It’s what I like doing, dealing with people. Your job is to go to all the parties,” Munoz says. “I didn’t have time to do anything illegal, and I didn’t have need to because I had all the money I needed. So I was changing.”

His 81-year-old roommate, who asked that his name be withheld, confirms that Munoz cooperated with SPD detectives Graham, Carpenter, and Dhabalt, when they showed up unannounced at the house the two men share in Divernon. The older man, who calls the detectives “the three stooges,” says they wanted to know where his roommate was the night of Dec. 21, and he confirmed that Munoz had been forced to stay home, since his car was in a repair shop in Virden.

“I told them the only car available was mine, and he’s not on my insurance, so he can’t drive it. Does that settle it?”

Both men say they were shocked when, three days later, the same detectives returned, accompanied by Sangamon County sheriff’s deputies, all with guns drawn.

“It looked like they were coming after Al Capone,” the elderly man says. “Graham came in and said, ‘We put Mr. Munoz under arrest.’ I said for what? He said, ‘For attempted burglary of St. Jude’s. He’ll be gone for at least six months.’ Those were his exact words.”

Munoz ended up spending 70 days in prison, but the arrest cost him his job and, he says, much more.

“I live in the country around a lot of elderly people, and nobody here [besides his roommate] even knew I was on parole or ever in prison,” Munoz says. “Then they see all them cops with their pistols drawn running to my door and placing me under arrest. . . .  I have been emotionally scarred by this, and almost lost all my sanity.”

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