Jared Chase is the last member of the “NATO 3,” who remains in prison. Chase suffers from Huntington’s disease and faces additional charges for alleged aggravated battery against a prison guard. He is set to go on trial in April. If convicted, there is a significant chance Chase could die in prison because of how his imprisonment has compounded the effects of this neurodegenerative disease.
In May 2012, Chicago hosted a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting to discuss policies in the Afghanistan War. A number of activists traveled to the city to protest NATO, including Chase, Brian Jacob Church and Brent Betterly. They became known as the “NATO 3” after they were targeted by undercover Chicago police and arrested on May 16. The state of Illinois accused the “NATO 3” of making explosives.
The Illinois State’s Attorney Office quickly labeled the young men “terrorists” in a criminal complaint and charged them with state terrorism offenses. On February 7, 2014, after a lengthy trial in which the key role of undercover cops became even more apparent, a jury acquitted the “NATO 3” of all terrorism charges. But they were found guilty of arson-related offenses and “mob action” charges.
In April 2014, a judge sentenced Church to five years in prison, Betterly to six years, and Chase to eight years for arson offenses. The judge allowed prosecutors to present evidence against Chase related to the alleged aggravated battery incident involving the spraying of urine and feces on a guard, even though the state intended to pursue a separate trial.
“He’s Dying Before My Eyes”
Betterly, who was released from prison in April 2015, was last with Chase while they were beat up by guards during their arrival at the Stateville prison’s receiving center. After sentencing, they were put on the same bus and moved to the prison. Guards from the Illinois Department of Corrections awaited their arrival, which resulted in a “pretty violent interaction,” according to Betterly.
During a recent pretrial hearing on December 7, 2015, Chase showed up to court with a black eye and a swollen face. Betterly said he’s lost a considerable amount of weight, perhaps fifty pounds. Supporters are terribly concerned about his health.
“He’s dying before my eyes. That’s not embellishment at all,” Betterly declared. “The charge he carries now—it carries a minimum of three years. He won’t survive it.”
Betterly noted the prisons are not capable of taking care of diseases “that are generally serious but treatable.” A disease like Huntington’s is “probably something they don’t encounter much. They completely have no idea how to care for somebody with Huntington’s. They’re not equipped to do it. He’ll die. If he’s found guilty and sentenced to even the minimum, he won’t make it. That’s my opinion.”
Chase is in solitary confinement at the Pontiac Correctional Center, a facility where a number of violent and/or mentally ill inmates are incarcerated.
State prosecutors allege that on October 4, 2013, Chase sprayed “human waste” on a Cook County prison guard, Officer Trevor Hapanionek. He was charged with four different charges for one alleged act.
Multiple Cook County guards testified during sentencing about the basic details of what they claim happened on October 4, but Dr. Kathleen Shannon, a neurologist who had assessed Chase, testified that his misconduct against guards was likely a result of Huntington’s disease.
Shannon informed the court the disease makes it difficult for a person to avoid outbursts. It makes one easily irritable and can lead to mania. On average, a person who develops the disease can die in 17 years. A person usually goes through multiple stages of disability until spending the final 8 years of their life in a nursing home or hospice care.
It is hereditary. Chase’s dad died from the disease, and according to Shannon’s best estimate, the onset of Huntington’s disease began in 2008.
A Letter Describing an Outburst and Brutal Abuse by Guards
The Nuclear Resister newsletter has been published since 1980. It supports people in jail for anti-nuclear activism. Around the Persian Gulf War in 1990, the newsletter expanded to support people in jail for anti-war activism. It reported on all those arrested in Chicago in relation to NATO meeting protests, including the “NATO 3.”
Jack Cohen-Joppa of the Nuke Resister has corresponded with Chase since 2012. He has contacted doctors and informed them that Chase is not getting the proper diet someone with Huntington’s should receive.
In a letter dated September 21, 2015, Chase describes in great detail an outburst against guards as well as the brutal manner in which prison guards responded to him:
On the last day that I wrote you 8/22/2015, after flipping out because I didn’t get my diet tray again, I flooded my cell that morning and threw shit and piss out in the gallery. After the workers finished cleaning, the C.O’s started running showers, while the C.O Gross was next door at my neighbor’s cell. I threw more feces and piss under my door, but it didn’t make it so to get it out of my cell I threw water behind it to push it out of my cell and it washed out on the gallery. C.O. Gross was so pissed the workers just left, he went to the Lt., Lt. Bennett, and lied and told him I had assaulted him with feces.
Lt. Bennett and a gang of C.O’s came to my cell, opened up my chuck, and told me to cuff up. I refused and told him to call Orange Crush [an elite guard unit in Illinois prisons]. He looked at the other C.O’s and asked them if they just wanted to run in my cell so to stop them I took the empty milk cartons I had used earlier to throw the piss and shit with, and I pretended like they were full of shit and I backed up and told them to come in and I’d throw it at them. Lt. Bennett told me once to put the cartons down and I refused.
Without any warning at all he pulled out his mace and sprayed me in the face through the open chuck. My first reaction was to drop the cartons, turn around, and try to protect my face. After about 30 seconds of coughing and pain, I decided they had won that battle and I backed up, told them I was cuffing up. I stuck my hands out the chuck and they cuffed me. They told me to kneel down and I did, and they rushed in and tackled me. They started beating me.
After they shackled my feet and picked me up, they pushed me down the gallery all the way to the stairs. They pushed me violently down the stairs causing me to fall down several times. When we got to the first floor around a corner where there was a blind spot in the cameras, they started punching me in the ribs and back, they shoved me into a cage and pushed me on my knees, they chained my feet to the floor and my hands to the bench. I was in so much pain from the shackles and mace. I started banging my head against the ground trying to knock myself out. Then they put a suicide smock in front of me so I couldn’t.
I had so much mucus coming out of my nose I kept spitting, and they put a spit mask over my head, making it hard to breathe and keeping all the mace on my face. 1 Sgt and 4 C.O’s sat there watching me thrashing and they laughed for 2 hours until a nurse came and put drops in my eyes. She examined my neck looking for marks because the C.O’s lied and told the psych and medical people I tried to hang myself. A psych doctor came in. I was placed back on suicide watch. I was strip searched and dressed in a suicide smock and brought to cell N-107. I spent 72 hours on suicide watch and the doctor took me off. My property was returned. Everything was destroyed. They threw it all on the floor in the water. All my books, clothes, legal, work, letters, and cards were all destroyed. Every thing had mold and mildew all over it. I was pissed! I was written up for attempt/assault. I was under the impression it was a minor thing so I refused to go to my hearing.
According to the letter, Chase was given one year in solitary confinement, lost his phone call privileges, lost one year of his good conduct credit, and received three months of yard restriction, nine months of audio/video restriction, and six months of contact visit restriction.
Chase is far from the only individual to face additional punishment for outbursts caused by their deteriorating health. For example, in 2011, the Belleville News-Democrat reported Anthony Gay had his prison term “increased because of mandatory consecutive sentences for throwing urine and feces at guards,” which added up to a sentence of 99 years. His “mental state” had deteriorated because of his seven-year stint in solitary at Tamms supermax prison, which is now shut down.
Assistant Appellate Defender Scott Main argued Gay’s mental state had diminished “to the point he shouldn’t be held criminally responsible for throwing body wastes, acts he claims were induced by mental illness.” The Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago organized mental health and prisoner advocates to support Gay, because he was constantly smearing urine and feces and needed proper medical treatment instead of a lifetime in prison. And, in 2014, the State conceded his sentence was illegal and reduced it so he would be released in 2018.
“The State of Illinois is trying to turn this into a life sentence for him,” Rachel Allshiny, an activist and supporter of Chase’s told Shadowproof. “He’s obviously deteriorating both in terms of what he writes to us or what I’ve seen in court. He doesn’t have as much control over his speech and movements as he used to. So, the deterioration is obvious and he’s not in a place that’s conducive to getting any better.”
Allshiny has written letters to Chase in the past, but she says her letters have had difficulty getting through to Chase. She also is one of the few people to have visited Chase in prison, and she has been present at most of his court dates.
During her visit in July 2012, she recalled how Chase wanted updates on activism and demonstrations. He was “trying very much to stay connected, but I could also see it was really difficult in many ways to have a visit.”
“He stopped seeing people after that, and I think it was just he said he didn’t want people to pity him. I could tell he was having an emotional time. He wanted to stay connected to the outside but he was finding it tough to be in that position where he’s behind glass,” Allshiny added.
Unable to Shake Off Stigma of Terrorism Offenses
On top of the Huntington’s disease, Chase has had to deal with the stigma of being charged with terrorism offenses.
“When we were in the county, we were all treated pretty brutally by some of the guards just because of our case,” Betterly shared. “It got even worse around the time of the Boston Bombing because we were still incarcerated pre-trial. [We were] automatically associated with that sort of thing, and they brought it up over and over again at trial.”
“I actually had a C.O. show up and testify against me in my sentencing because of an interaction we’d had when I was in the county after the verdict but before the sentencing,” Betterly recounted. “He was somewhat new. He was a rookie. He had gone through the academy and just started working on my deck and came up to my cell and refused to let me out (because you get like one hour a day in max to go out and use the phone and take a shower, etc). He refused to let me out and put his face right up against the bars and told me the jury might have bought your shit but I didn’t. I hope you fucking rot. He wouldn’t let me out of my cell.”
“Most of them were really sure we were terrorists and done all the ridiculous things that they said they did. Even after the verdict proved that was all bullshit and not just the verdict but everything that came out during trial—some of them were even more bitter that we [weren’t found guilty].” It was like they were angry the system had failed them, according to Betterly.
Betterly never had to deal with problems getting medical treatment for any serious illnesses while he was at Stateville, but he said he had been in prison with someone who had cancer, and tried to get treatment for a small cyst in his mouth.
“It took years to finally get him to a doctor, and by that time, they had to remove his entire jaw and upper palate because of the amount of time that it took to get in there and take care of a tiny little cyst,” Betterly recalled. “You know, that’s pretty standard. That’s pretty standard, especially for [Illinois Department of Corrections]. It’s one of the worst.”
Guards are not trained to take care of a person with a serious disease like Huntington’s. The prison is both unprepared medically and disciplinarily. The only answer the prison has, as Betterly argued, is to lock Chase in a “solitary cage away from everybody. Let him die quietly.”
Staying Connected to the Outside World
Yet, despite what prison is doing to him, Chase continues to try and hold on to his sanity. Allshiny said he is now trying to learn new languages. She remembered they spoke about books when she visited him in prison years ago. He mentioned someone had sent him a book by Philip K. Dick that he really liked. Allshiny sent him some classic science fiction books.
Allshiny believed Chase was a science fiction fan, but about a year after the visit, he told her in a letter that he had never read these books before. It had opened up a “whole new world.”
One of the reasons it has been difficult for Chase in prison is because he is not very compliant. He is always trying to stage “some kind of a hunger strike” to get his needs met, according to Allshiny. Cook County or Illinois State correctional staff do not appreciate that. “He’s very much rubbing them the wrong way.”
Even if it seems unlikely Chase will ever see the outside of a jail cell again, his supporters remain committed to freeing him. Allshiny feels particularly responsible. She organized with Occupy Chicago and helped Chase, Church, and Betterly find housing during the NATO meeting. She has spent the last years making sure everyone who traveled to Chicago is able to return home.
As Allshiny put it, “We have one left. We’re not quite there yet.”