As part of the ongoing work of the Exoneration Project, the University of Chicago announced this month that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has moved to vacate and dismiss drug charges against 14 more men, all of whom were framed by disgraced former Chicago Police Sergeant Ronald Watts and members of his tactical team. The Exoneration Project has worked for years on wrongful conviction matters, focusing on cases in the city of Chicago. Langdon & Emison partner Mark Emison worked with the Exoneration Project as a law student at the University of Chicago, and currently serves on the board of the Midwest Innocence Project.
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 his team were running a “protection racket” for more than a decade, planting evidence and fabricating charges against southside residents while facilitating their own drug and gun trade.
The Illinois Appellate Court has referred to Watts and his team as “corrupt police officers,” perjurers and “criminals” and recently chastised 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. A second mass exoneration on September 24, 2018 led to the dismissal of 23 convictions of 18 more men. A third mass exoneration on November 2, 2018 saw eight more convictions of six men and one woman dismissed.
In total, following Monday and Wednesday’s court hearings, 63 individuals will have had 82 convictions tied to Watts and his corrupt team 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 has represented 47 of these individuals, and according to Attorney Joshua Tepfer, “there are dozens more with credible claims waiting to have their cases reviewed.”
The ten people whose cases will be dismissed tomorrow are all represented by The Exoneration Project. This includes Henry Thomas, who already had one case dismissed in the November 2017 mass exoneration and is expected to have a second one dismissed on Monday.
The four people whose cases will be dismissed on Wednesday are represented by Joel Flaxman of the Law Office of Kenneth N. Flaxman P.C., who, in total, have represented 17 men whose convictions have been overturned. (One man was represented jointly by both The Exoneration Project and the Law Office of Kenneth N. Flaxman, P.C.)
Fallout from the mass dismissals has led to fifteen 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 officers tied to Watts.