CHICAGO — The city of Chicago has paid more than $578 million since 2016 in judgments, settlements and legal fees relating to claims of police misconduct.
It is a staggering figure but observers say taxpayers aren’t done paying yet. They predict millions of dollars more will be spent as legal cases relating to a notorious former officer wind through the courts.
There are now more than 170 pending lawsuits accusing the former officer Ronald Watts of misconduct. Watts and his team have been accused in court filings of framing dozens of people at the former Ida B. Wells public housing complex on the city’s South Side.
Ultimately, Watts was criminally charged with shaking down an undercover FBI agent and sentenced to 22 months in prison. The case cost Watts his city pension.
But taxpayers aren’t done paying for his alleged deeds.
“This is a problem that could exceed $100 million,” Chicago-based civil rights attorney Jon Loevy said. “Collectively, it’s staggering because so many people were so deeply affected.”
In all, the city has paid $8.7 million to outside legal counsel for the Watts cases.
It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $155 million the city has paid defense attorneys in all police misconduct cases since 2016.
But observers say the Watts-related costs will continue to grow, as suits are settled or tried, posing a major challenge for the city’s next mayor.
“Nothing like this has ever happened in the city of Chicago, where there’s been this level of mass exonerations,” Chicago attorney Josh Tepfer said.
Theodore “Ed” Wilkins is among the exonerees.
In court filings, Wilkins claims that on three separate occasions, beginning in 2003, he was confronted by Watts and his crew. He would end up serving multiple stints in prison.
“It affected me…a lot,” Wilkins said. “Because I lost a lot during those incarcerations.”
He is among those suing Watts and the city for misconduct.
“As humans and individuals, you know, we are going to be mad,” Wilkins said. “[But] as time goes by, you have to accept what you got and move on and better your life.”
Watts is no longer an officer and lives out of state. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.