Nearly 20 people who were framed in drug cases based on bogus arrests by a Chicago police unit that shook down residents of the Ida B. Wells housing projects have filed federal lawsuits against more than a dozen officers, the police department and city.
The lawsuits come months or years after each of the plaintiffs had their convictions thrown out by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, which has reviewed the claims of dozens of defendants who say they were targeted by officers on a tactical unit headed by former Sgt. Ronald Watts.
Watts and fellow officer Kallatt Mohammed in 2012 pleaded guilty to federal charges for stealing $5,000 from a federal informant.
Lawyers for the 19 announced the cases at a press conference Friday at the offices of Loevy & Loevy, a law firm that has specialized in civil rights cases against the CPD, winning millions in judgments and settlements from the city.
Each suit lists a slightly different combination of officers but describes a similar pattern: Watts or his subordinates approached the victims, demanded cash, drugs or guns, and threatened to arrest anyone who did not comply. The lawsuits also include a litany of the CPD’s darkest episodes, as evidence of “code of silence” around misconduct allegations, and a persistent failure by departmental brass to take steps to reform the department after corrupt officers were exposed and sent to prison.
Foxx’s office has dropped cases against more than 60 defendants who were convicted based on arrests tainted by the involvement of Watts’ team, including “mass exoneration” in November 2017, the first in Cook County history, when the state’s attorney asked a judge to wipe out convictions for 15 men.
Court records show that 48 people have filed federal lawsuits against Watts and the department since 2016. None of those cases has yet gone to trial or resulted in a payout from the city.
Lawyers for the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School say they have identified hundreds of cases where defendants made credible claims that Watts’ unit pinned false charges on them, and lied in reports and on the witness stand.