Crusader Staff Report
A Cook County judge on Tuesday, February 11 tossed out the convictions of 12 Blacks who were framed by disgraced former Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and members of his team. All charges were then dismissed against the individuals.
Eleven men and one woman went before Judge Leroy Martin to see their convictions vacated as Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx looked on.
The 12 whose convictions were dismissed on Tuesday are Demetris Adams, Chauncy Ali, Christopher Farris, Stefon Harrison, David Mayberry, Antony Mays, Gregory Molette, Terrence Moye, Jajuan Nile, Hasaan Potts, Calvin Robinson, and Alhummza Stokes.
Together, the 12 were sentenced to 30 years in prison. None of them spoke to the press outside the courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Courts building on the West Side.
The move brings the number of overturned Watts cases to 94. Most of those cases were brought about by the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago, which has helped clear the names and convictions of innocent individuals in recent years.
The 12 men whose cases were wiped out Tuesday had all served out their sentences in a total of 13 cases, and spent a total of 30 years in prison, said Joshua Tepfer, a lawyer for the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School,
Foxx’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) has reviewed similar Watts cases as part of her criminal justice reform initiative.
The CIU, tasked with investigating and addressing claims of wrongful convictions, is reviewing these cases after a pattern of misconduct by Watts was uncovered which has significantly impacted the confidence in the initial arrests and validity of the convictions.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Foxx praised Judge Martin’s decision. “It is always the right time to do the right thing and never too late to deliver justice for those who have been stigmatized and traumatized by the unlawful actions of those entrusted to protect the community.”
In 2012, Watts and Officer Kallatt Mohammed were federally indicted and later pled guilty to taking a bribe from an informant. Law enforcement documents have since revealed that Watts and members of his team were running a “protection racket” for more than a decade, planting evidence and fabricating charges against South Side residents while facilitating their own drug and gun trade. Many of the residents lived in the former Ida B. Wells housing projects in Bronzeville.
Watts and Mohammed were charged after they were caught on video taking $5,200 from an informant in an FBI sting operation.
The Illinois Appellate Court has referred to Watts and his team as “corrupt police officers,” perjurers, and “criminals,” chastising the City’s police disciplinary oversight bodies for their utter failure to do anything “to slow down the criminal” police officers during a decade of corruption.
In November 2017, 15 men represented by the Exoneration Project had convictions tossed out in Cook County’s first ever mass exoneration. Three more mass exonerations followed in the next 15 months.
In total, following Tuesday’s court hearings, at least 75 individuals will have had no fewer than 95 convictions tied to Watts dismissed, in what the Chief Justice of the Illinois Court of Claims has called “one of the most staggering cases of police corruption in the history of the City of Chicago.”
The Exoneration Project and the Law Office of Kenneth N. Flaxman, P.C. have represented these 75 known individuals. Many more individuals with credible claims are still having their cases reviewed by the State’s Attorney’s Office.
Fallout from the mass dismissals has led to 15 current Chicago police officers tied to Watts’ tactical team being put on desk duty by the Chicago Police Department.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has also informed the Chicago police that they will no longer use testimony from some officers tied to Watts.
The city has already spent more than $3.4 million defending civil rights lawsuits involving Sgt. Watts and his crew.