CHICAGO — Prosecutors are set to dismiss convictions against 18 more people that resulted from investigations by a corrupt Chicago police sergeant and his crew of tactical officers.
The exonerations will take place Monday and will bring to 42 the total number of overturned convictions linked to then-Sgt. Ronald Watts since 2016, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The latest reversals all involve drug cases brought between 2003 and 2008, court records show. The defendants received sentences ranging from probation to four years in prison, so any that were locked up were released long ago.
Robert Foley, a spokesman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, confirmed that the cases would be thrown out but declined to comment further until then.
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) September 21, 2018
The new cases set for dismissal include one in which the defendant alleged that Watts had framed him for narcotics possession because his brother had failed to pay $5,000 in protection money.
Many such allegations that Watts and his crew extorted drug dealers and residents swirled around them for years, despite complaints to the police department and statements made during court hearings.
Watts’ and another officer were arrested in 2012 when they shook down a drug courier who turned out to be an FBI informant. Both pleaded guilty and were sentenced to federal prison. Watts, who received a 22-month term, was released in 2015 and later moved to Las Vegas, records show.
Joshua Tepfer, who represented 12 of the men whose cases will be dismissed Monday, said the fact that Watts was allowed to operate for so long even though his corruption was an “open secret” among police leadership illustrates a “total failure of the system.”
“My clients told everyone about it, and no one believed them,” said Tepfer, an attorney for the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School. “They told police investigators, they told judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors. Their complaints were dismissed and ignored.”
Men whose convictions were dismissed have filed at least 23 wrongful conviction federal lawsuits against Watts and the city. Those cases are pending, and the new dismissals will likely lead to more lawsuits.
Chicago’s troubled police force has been involved in series of scandals in recent decades and misconduct settlements, verdicts and legal fees that have cost the city more than $700 million in the last 15 or so years.