More than a dozen men who claim they were framed by corrupt Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and officers on his South Side unit want their convictions overturned, according to a petition filed this week in Cook County Criminal Court.
The 15 defendants cited FBI reports on the investigation into Watts and his crew that date back more than eight years before Watts’ 2012 arrest.
Watts and fellow officer Kallatt Mohammed both were recorded stealing $5,000 from a federal informant, and in their guilty pleas admitted to routinely extorting money from drug dealers.
The petition, drafted by lawyers for University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project, also points to dozens of complaints filed with CPD alleging similar misconduct.
In each case, the men say they were shaken down for cash or drugs by the rogue officers, and were arrested on bogus charges if they refused to pay.
Each of the defendants had claimed they had been framed at the time of their arrests, which range from 2003 to 2008 – all dates before Watts was indicted, the petition said.
The most egregious claims come from Leonard Gipson, who said Watts’ and his fellow tactical team officers arrested Gipson three times after planting drugs on him.
Watts told Gipson he would arrest Gipson “every time he saw him” if he refused to pay him off, the petition alleges.
Watts had spotted Gipson in the first incident, and planted drugs on Gipson and arrested him, the lawsuit says. Five months later, Gipson had posted bond and visited the Wells projects and, Watts again allegedly planted drugs on Gipson and told him, “Let’s see if you can bond out on this.”
Gipson filed a complaint with CPD and fought the charges, telling his story to a judge in hopes of having the evidence against him thrown out.
The judge ruled that the officers were more credible, and Gipson pleaded guilty to the charges, the petition states.
In 2007, two years after Gipson had been released from jail, he ran into Watts’ crew again, and again was arrested after the officers planted cocaine and heroin on him, the petition states.
In the last two years, five people had their convictions dropped in cases that relied on testimony from Watts and members of his tactical unit, and the city of Chicago paid out $2 million to Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echevarria, two CPD officers who claimed their careers suffered because they worked with the FBI to take Watts down.