Attorneys ask judge to vacate 39 remaining cases tied to disgraced CPD sergeant

A motion filed earlier this week seeks summary judgment on behalf of dozens of people who have waited for years to prove that they were wrongfully arrested by Sgt. Ronald Watts or officers working for him.

SHARE Attorneys ask judge to vacate 39 remaining cases tied to disgraced CPD sergeant
Attorney Josh Tepfer talks to reporters in 2017 after a judge vacated convictions of 15 men who cases were tied to former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts.

Attorney Josh Tepfer talks to reporters in 2017 after a judge vacated convictions of 15 men who cases were tied to former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts.

Sun-Times file

After getting hundreds of wrongful drug convictions overturned in recent years, attorneys representing a group of men and women who say they were framed by disgraced former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and officers under his command are asking a judge to vacate dozens of remaining convictions in one fell swoop.

Attorneys representing the group filed a motion earlier this week for a summary judgment on behalf of 39 people who have waited for years to prove that they were wrongfully arrested by police, according to the filing.

Watts and Officer Kallatt Mohammed led a tactical unit in the Ida B. Wells Housing Project and used the threat of arrest to extort residents and drug dealers alike.

Watts and Mohammed were charged in federal court in 2012 after they were recorded taking a $5,000 bribe from an informant during a FBI sting operation. Both were later convicted of theft of government funds; Watts was sentenced to 22 months in prison and Mohammed to 18 months.

Other officers alleged to have been involved still remain on the city payroll and have never faced consequences, the attorneys have said.

So far, the attorneys’ efforts have led to 133 people getting their convictions in Watts-related cases overturned on a piecemeal basis since 2017.

Last July, defense attorneys filed a petition to force Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office to take action on the cases of 88 people in a single filing when they became worried the review of some cases by prosecutors was taking too long.

In a series of hearings since November, Foxx’s office agreed to vacate the convictions of 49 of the 88 cases, leaving 39 outstanding.

Foxx has said each of the cases — some more than 20 years old — requires a separate, time-consuming review.

In their motion this week, attorneys for the group say that prosecutors haven’t explained why they are treating the remaining cases differently and note that “far from giving these cases individualized treatment, the State has filed Answers that are substantively identical in all respects.”

The attorneys also pointed to “the confounding nature” of prosecutors agreeing to vacate some cases, but not others — even if the arrests occurred at the same time and in some cases were made by the same officers.

In one example, the motion points to prosecutors agreeing to vacate the conviction of a man arrested in 2004, while the arrest of another man “framed for an arrest at the exact same time and exact same location” didn’t meet their standards to toss out.

Prosecutors have also not disputed any of the facts raised by defense attorneys in the remaining cases, they argue.

A spokeswoman for Foxx said the office’s investigation was ongoing and declined to comment further.

Exoneration Project attorney Joshua Tepfer, who has been involved in dozens of the cases, said Wednesday that the time had come to put an end to his client’s waiting.

Given the number of cases already vacated, Tepfer said, prosecutors “should have no confidence in any of these convictions.”

The cases are back in court on April 22.

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