15 men framed by corrupt CPD Sgt. Ronald Watts seek certificates of innocence

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Attorney Josh Tepfer talks to reporters after a judge vacated convictions of 15 men whose cases were tied to corrupt cop Ronald Watts. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

More than a dozen men whose convictions were thrown out en masse in November are seeking to have the bogus charges against them permanently wiped off their records.

In all, Cook County prosecutors dropped 18 convictions pinned on a total of 15 men who claimed they were framed by corrupt Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his underlings, with one of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s top deputies saying the office could not stand by the cases built on testimony by Watts and his subordinates.

Last week, the group filed a petition for a “certificate of innocence” from the state, which will completely expunge the cases from the men’s records and make them eligible for up to $85,000 from a state fund for victims of wrongful convictions, said Joshua Tepfer, who is representing the group for the Exoneration Project at University of Chicago Law School.

The first hearing on the petition is set for Tuesday.

“What (prosecutors) said was, in these particular cases, the officers did not tell the truth,” Tepfer said Friday. “If they were not telling the truth, that leads to one conclusion: the crime never happened and they were framed, and they should grant the petition for innocence.”

Former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts leaves the Dirksen Federal Building on Oct. 9, 2013, after receiving a 22-month sentence after being found guilty for his role in an FBI sting operation. | Sun-Times file photo

Former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts leaves the Dirksen Federal Building on Oct. 9, 2013, after receiving a 22-month sentence after being found guilty for his role in an FBI sting operation. | Sun-Times file photo

Watts ran a tactical unit that patrolled the Ida B. Wells housing projects until he was charged with stealing cash from an FBI informant in 2011. He was sentenced to federal prison after pleading guilty in 2013.

Watts and his fellow officers routinely planted drugs, falsified reports, and lied on the witness stand to pin bogus cases on project residents who resisted when the officers tried to shake them down for money.

Only Watts and fellow officer Kallat Mohammed were charged in the case, but CPD officials put seven other officers on desk duty shortly after Foxx’s office announced it was dropping cases against the 15 defendants.

Six other convictions overturned because of allegations against Watts and his subordinates.

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