20 more cases tied to corrupt ex-CPD sergeant vacated — with more coming

Additional hearings will be held later this month, where Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said 30 or more convictions are expected to be vacated.

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Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks during a news conference Tuesday at the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse in the Little Village neighborhood.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks during a news conference Tuesday at the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse in the Little Village neighborhood. Twenty more people will have their convictions thrown out after prosecutors in Chicago said they are working to right the wrongs of a former police sergeant who framed or falsely accused more 100 people of drug crimes.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said that her office plans to toss dozens more cases tied to corrupt former Chicago police sergeant Ronald Watts in the coming weeks.

Foxx made the announcement Tuesday shortly after prosecutors agreed to vacate 20 more convictions against 19 people that stemmed from arrests connected to Watts and his crew of officers, who the state’s attorney said “preyed” upon residents of the Ida B. Wells Homes.

Additional hearings will be held Feb. 8 and Feb. 16, where Foxx said 30 or more convictions are expected to be vacated.

More than 100 people convicted in Watts-related cases have now had their convictions vacated.

Many have waited years to prove they were framed by Watts and other officers working under him —many who are still drawing a paycheck from the Police Department, defense attorneys for the wrongfully convicted men and women said after the hearing.

“Sgt. Watts and his corrupt crew savaged a community. They decimated Brown and Black men and women, a whole generation, and the city of Chicago let it happen,” attorney Sean Starr said.

Prosecutors did not agree to overturn convictions in 15 other cases Tuesday and asked Presiding Judge Erica Reddick to continue them until March.

Josh Tepfer said he and his colleagues see no difference between those cases and ones the state’s attorney’s office hasn’t opposed.

Foxx said each of the cases — some more than 20 years old — needed to be reviewed individually and said it was taking time for the office to do their “due diligence.”

Still, Foxx said prosecutors would continue a policy of not calling any of the officers to the stand in the cases and did not rule out the possibility that those cases could eventually be dropped as well. If not, defense attorneys said they would eventually head to a hearing before a judge to decide their outcome.

Watts and Officer Kallatt Mohammed pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2013 after they were recorded taking $5,000 from an FBI informant and admitted to routinely extorting money from drug dealers.

The two officers led a tactical unit at the Wells Homes and were also accused of using the threat of arrest to shake down drug dealers and residents of the housing project in exchange for money and drugs.

Watts received 22 months in prison; Mohammed was sentenced to 18 months.

Foxx called it a “sorrowful moment,” noting none of the individuals and their families would get the time back that was taken from them by their convictions.

“We were known as the false confession capital of the United States” Foxx said of Cook County. “We have led the country for years in the vacating of wrongful convictions.”

Foxx said addressing the wrongs of the past was necessary for public safety and to uphold the integrity of the county’s justice system.

“We ask every day for members of the community to step up and work with us to solve crimes, to come into court,” Foxx said. “If they don’t believe the system is fair and just — and in fact [believe] that the system is designed to hurt them — they won’t help us.”

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