Four more defendants Wednesday had decade-old convictions for drug offenses wiped out, after Cook County prosecutors found evidence they had been framed by Chicago police officers under the command of a sergeant who was sent to federal prison for shaking down drug dealers.
At a hearing Wednesday, a judge granted a request from Assistant State’s Attorney Nancy Adduci to toss the convictions of Jermaine Coleman, Jabal Stokes, Robert Lindsey and Germain Sims in cases that were based on arrests by CPD officers serving on a tactical unit headed by Sgt. Ronald Watts.
“I’m just glad to see justice finally got done, because [the conviction] messed my life up,” Coleman told reporters in the courthouse lobby.
Coleman was sentenced to four years in prison on a drug possession charge, after Watts’ team arrested him, Stokes and 10 others after rounding them up from the sidewalks in the Ida B. Wells housing projects in 2006.
“I’m thinking we got a trespass, but when we got to the holding cells, we got heroin cases. … Years of my life went down the drain for nothing, because I was outside a project.”
The exonerations came two days after the state’s attorney’s office dropped charges against 10 men who were convicted in other, unrelated cases tainted by Watts and his unit, which patrolled the Wells projects. Watts and fellow officer Kallatt Mohammed pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2012, after they were recorded stealing $5,000 from a federal informant who was wearing a wire.
In a development that could indicate a new phase in prosecutors’ probe of dozens of cases involving Watts’ unit, Adduci on Wednesday asked Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr., chief judge of the Criminal Division, for permission to subpoena witnesses. Previously, the State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit had power only to subpoena records involving the Watts’ cases.
“I would like to talk to some people,” Adduci said.
Since 2017, the state’s attorney’s office under Kim Foxx has thrown out convictions of more 60 defendants based on claims they were framed by Watts, claims that typically have matched statements they had made at the time of their arrests: that Watts and his fellow officers planted drugs on them and filed false arrest reports. Kenneth Flaxman, attorney for the four men exonerated Wednesday, said he has asked the state’s attorney to review cases involving another dozen of his clients.
Watts and Mohammed were the only officers to face charges in the federal probe of their unit, dubbed “Operation Brass Tax.” But CPD officials placed 15 officers who served with Watts’ unit on desk duty in November 2017, after the state’s attorney’s office announced it was dropping the convictions of 15 people based on misconduct allegations against Watts, the first “mass exoneration” in Cook County.