In a virtually unprecedented move, The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office has reportedly agreed to take a fresh look at cases involving a disgraced Chicago Police sergeant and the tactical team he commanded on Chicago’s South Side.
Already in that case, the commander of the crew, Sgt. Ronald Watts, and one of his officers, Khalat Mohammed, were convicted of shaking down drug dealers and others at the Ida B. Wells housing project. But others have come forward to say they were framed by the officers and others who worked on the same tactical team.
Two other Chicago police officers, Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria, said they developed evidence which was never prosecuted, that the entire team was dirty.
In court this morning, Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats told Judge Leroy Martin, "We are looking into the matter, and investigating all of the claims that are brought to us."
In the long run, that could end up involving hundreds of cases. But for now the State’s Attorney’s office suggests a limited examination of those convicted by the officers in question.
Defense Attorney Joshua Tepfer told Martin this morning that he has been working with the State’s Attorney’s office to identify other individuals who were framed and wrongfully convicted by Watts and officers working under his command. Tepfer told the judge that the two sides are even seeking outside funding, to finance a much wider investigation.
“We’re working together to get funding that would not cost taxpayers a dime,” Tepfer told the judge.
"In my belief there are many, many cases of individuals who were wrongfully convicted at the hands of these officers," Tepfer told NBC5. "The process of identifying them has always been the most difficult part of the process."
Journalist Jamie Kalven, who had sued for the appointment of a so-called "special master" to investigate wrongdoing by the officers, called the decision by the State’s Attorney to proactively investigate the cases, "a new day."
"Nobody knows really how big this potentially is," Kalven said. "These officers operated in abandoned communities in high rise public housing for more than a decade."
Officers Spalding and Echeverria, who tried to blow the whistle on wrongdoing at Ida B. Wells, said they unsuccessfully tried to warn superiors that uncharged officers were still working.
"Officers who have been engaged in criminal activity for years may very well still be on the force," Kalven said.
While the State’s Attorney’s spokesman said the initial examination will be centered on individuals still incarcerated who might have been framed by Watts, Tepfer says the two sides will make an effort to expand that inquiry to include other individuals allegedly framed by officers who are no longer in custody.