Law Alumna Wins $10M For Police Misconduct
Three years after freeing her client from a wrongful murder conviction, Kate Chatfield JD ’06 and her team won $10 million in civil damages for police misconduct related to the case.
Such verdicts are extremely rare, according to Lara Bazelon, director of the USF School of Law Racial Justice and Juvenile Justice clinics. “It’s about as common as finding a unicorn in your backyard,” she says. “It does not happen.”
The $10 million suit was against the City of San Francisco and was based on evidence that came to light after Jamal Trulove’s 2010 conviction — a conviction that was overturned by an appellate court — as well as on information that Chatfield and her former law partner uncovered during the 2015 retrial of Trulove. The evidence, Chatfield says, showed that San Francisco police investigators fabricated evidence and withheld evidence that could have helped Trulove's defense in his first trial in 2010. San Francisco has appealed the $10 million jury decision.
Finally, a sense of justice
“This verdict helps bring about a sense of justice,” Chatfield said. “What police did was outrageous, an abomination that can’t go on and needed to be brought to the light of day. People need to know about this and be made aware so that it doesn’t happen anymore. It reveals to the larger world how law enforcement officers can abuse their power and do so especially against people of color. The hope is that legislators will examine these cases and come up with meaningful reforms to both address those officers who abuse their power and to implement policies and procedures to prevent abuses.”
It was work on Trulove’s cases that in part spurred Chatfield to work for broader criminal justice policy changes and to co-found Re:store Justice, a nonprofit focused on reforming California’s criminal justice system. Re:store Justice is pushing for several changes that, while not related to Trulove’s case, would bring about needed improvements to the system, Chatfield says. These include working to narrow California’s legal definition of felony murder, which currently allows murder convictions against offenders who did not directly participate in a killing, and opening a re-entry house for people leaving prison after serving decades in prison. Re:store also brings together inmates, district attorneys, crime victims, and other groups to discuss reforms, says Chatfield, the nonprofit’s policy director.
“My overall goal with Re:store Justice is to transform our system of crime and punishment into a humane system, one in which justice and compassion are valued equally,” she says.
Chatfield’s also dedicated to mentoring the next generation of USF attorneys. She works directly with law students, providing them with the opportunity to represent clients in parole hearings at San Quentin. “It’s so important that new lawyers coming into the legal field are inspired to help those who really need their help,” Chatfield says. “I want to show law students that there’s this work out there and it is valuable. You can definitely have an impact.”
“As an alum of USF Law, Kate wonderfully represents our school's values and the value of our degree,” says Susan Freiwald, USF School of Law interim dean. “What makes our law school so special is the way Kate and other incredible alums share their talents, skills, and passion with our students through their teaching, mentoring, and job counseling.”