Wrongful Convictions: 15 Men File Lawsuits Against Corrupt Former Police Officer
Fifteen men each filed separate federal lawsuits last Friday alleging they were wrongfully convicted and framed for various criminal offenses by former Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and the Chicago PD. The corruption scandal surrounding Watts has so far lead to 24 men having their convictions overturned.
Attorney Jon Loevy is representing the 15 men. He blamed a code of silence within the Chicago Police Department foe enabling Watts to orchestrate one of the “biggest scandals” in the history of the department.
“What happened to them was beyond unjust,’’ Loevy said. “… This is the code of silence in action.’’
Watts Extorted Residents on Chicago’s South Side
In the lawsuit, the men allege that Watts operated an extortion ring targetting the former Ida B. Wells housing development on Chicago’s South Side and got away with it because of systemic failures within the Chicago Police Department.
Watts is accused of forcing people in and around the housing development area to pay a “protection” tax. He forced residents and drug dealers alike to pay up or else they risked Watts framing them for a crime they didn’t commit. People either paid up or had bogus cases pinned on them usually by planting fake evidence.
Watts was busted in 2013 by an undercover FBI operation, where an agent posed as a drug dealer that Watts attempted to steal from. However, Watts was only sent to 22 months in prison. Officer Kallatt Mohammed was also sentenced as a result of the FBI operation.
Exonerated Years Later
Fourteen of the 15 men filing lawsuits were exonerated and had their drug convictions thrown out late last year in a mass exoneration. The fifteenth man, Anthony McDaniels, had his gun conviction thrown out last month after almost ten years in prison. McDaniels case is particularly noteworthy because he said it was members of Watts’ crew that pinned the gun on him and not just Watts.
McDaniels said Watts and another officer, Kallatt Mohammed, planted a gun on him when he refused to pay a bribe. McDaniels said the two officers plus a third officer, Manuel Leano, fabricated police reports and lied at his trial.
Another Watts victim, Leonard Gipson, filed a report with the Chicago PD in 2003 alleging Watts planted drugs on him because he refused to pay a bribe. Four months later when Watts ran into Gipson again, Watts planted handcuffed him and planted 28 grams of heroin on him in retaliation.
On the advice of his lawyer, Gipson ultimately pleaded guilty since it was his word against that of a police officer. Years later, after Watts’ crimes came to light, Gipson had three drug charges connected to Watts overturned.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson removed 15 officers who formerly worked on Watts’ tactical team from street duties and assigned them to paid desk duty as their own roles in the numerous allegations are investigated. Ten other police officers who worked closely with Watts are now also having their credibility questioned and can no longer be used as state witnesses in court.
Independent prosecutors within Cook County are investigating numerous other convictions linked to Watts.