Convictions were dismissed Thursday against 15 Black men after they said several dirty Chicago Police officers framed them for bogus drug charges, USA Today reported.
A former police sergeant and his crew of cops forcibly requested “protection payoffs from residents and drug dealers in a city housing project.” The credibility of the convictions against the group, filed from 2003 to 2008, was questioned by Cook County prosecutors, they confirmed to Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. Officer Ronald Watts and his subordinates had operated below board.
“In good conscience, we could not see these convictions stand,” Mark Rotert, who heads the Cook County State’s Attorney’s conviction integrity unit, stated.
More convictions could possibly be overturned by the integrity unit, which vows to review any legitimate complaints brought by plaintiffs charged with crimes that were investigated by Watts.
The mass exoneration of the men, who received probation to nine years in prison, is a rare move. But the cases bring to light more collusion within the beleaguered police department, which has been condemned for using brute force against people of color.
The department has been marred by far-reaching racial bias, poor training and failing oversight of cops who commit misconduct.
But the city maintains that there is “zero tolerance for abuse, misconduct or any unlawful actions” by law enforcement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a joint statement.
“The actions of Ronald Watts must be condemned by all of us, and we will continue our work to ensure the abuses of the past are never repeated in the future,” Emanuel and Johnson stated.
Lawyers for the 15 men petitioned for the drug convictions to be overturned two months ago, USA Today reported. Watts and another officer, Kallat Mohammed, pleaded guilty to stealing money in a drug case involving an FBI informant in 2013. Both were sentenced to stints in federal prison.
Allegations were also brought against Watts for harassing residents in a public housing complex in Chicago’s South Side. As many as 500 convictions of people who said they had drugs planted on them by Watts and his crew for refusing to pay them off are also being investigated, Joshua Tepfer, the lead attorney representing the 15 men, said, The Chicago Tribune reported.
Six officers and one sergeant, who was Watts’ subordinate working on the overturned cases, are serving desk duty pending an internal review, police spokesman Frank Giancamilli confirmed.
The corrupt cops’ actions still are causing pain for the exonerated men. Philip Thomas, 58, one of the petitioners, spent more than six years in prison on trump up charges.
“The better years of my life were spent running from them and then in the penitentiary,” Thomas said.