Sgt. Ronald Watts

5 More Watts Cases Thrown Out — But 88 Were Before the Court

Lawyers ask why it's taking so long for their clients to receive justice

NBC Universal, Inc.

Most lawyers would consider it a monumental victory if they walked out of court with five clients exonerated of their crimes.

Problem is, the case before Judge Erica Reddick had the names of 88 individuals seeking to have their cases thrown out.

"For the other 83 people, we can't be celebrating," attorney Joel Flaxman said after court. "We want to see action on all fronts for justice for these wronged individuals."

All of the cases involved disgraced Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and the team he commanded at the former Ida B. Wells housing project. Already, more than 100 cases have been overturned, with even prosecutors saying the testimony of Watts and his team could not be believed.

But the cases are crawling through court. And the attorneys are asking why that's happening, in the face of almost identical evidence in each one.

"So much time has passed that we have learned about just an unfathomable level of corruption that was going on, led by what I believe is the most corrupt officer in the history of this city," said attorney Joshua Tepfer, who had 60 of the cases before the court Thursday. "And that is no small feat!"

In court, Assistant State's Attorney Carol Rogala indicated that the state would not stand in the way of overturning the cases of five of the men whose names were read. But she told the judge that there is an ongoing review of the petitions of the remaining individuals, some with multiple cases.

"There's no way we can handle all 90-plus on the same day," she said.

"I just remain deeply, deeply, deeply troubled that this was allowed to go on in the City of Chicago," Tepfer said. "And that it is taking this long with an office of the State's Attorney that vowed to address police corruption.

Amid allegations of frameups and shakedowns of the housing project's residents, only Watts and one of his officers faced charges, and both went to prison. But even departmental insiders alleged that the entire team shared culpability in the corruption.

Indeed, in 2017, the Cook County State's Attorney's office sent Chicago Police a letter with the names of nine of the officers who they said would not be called again as witnesses, "due to concerns about their credibility and alleged involvement in the misconduct of Sgt. Watts."

"Out of 88 cases, you threw five out - what are you waiting on?" petitioner Terrence Hogans told NBC 5. Hogans' name was among the 83 whose cases were not overturned Thursday.

"They did this daily," he said. "I'm not the only one in this situation."

According to documents filed in the case, Hogans said he was engaged in a dice game outside a Wells building when Watts and his officers pulled up, took cash from him, and eventually planted drugs which they used as the basis for an arrest.

"(He) went inside some apartment and came out with a handful of heroin," Hogans said. "He just put the drugs on me and took the cash that I had."

The agency responsible for addressing police wrongdoing, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, sent letters to the Chicago Police Department two years ago, recommending that three of the officers be stripped of their police powers.

All three were also on the State's Attorney's "do not call" letter in 2017. Since that time, NBC 5 Investigates has determined the three have been paid a total of $1.38 million.

"Shame on Chicago," former Wells resident Clarissa Glenn said. "Shame on the system."

Glenn was one of the very first Watts exonerees. And she says she witnessed the wrongdoing.

"I saw criminal activity in these officers that was on the Watts team," she said. "I feel they should not be on the police system, sitting behind a desk, or serving Chicago - period!"

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