In the wake of Thursday’s mass exonerations of 15 individuals who said they were framed by rogue police officers, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson suggested the department had limited knowledge of those officers’ alleged activities.
“It did happen years ago,” he said. “But unfortunately, CPD was not in charge of that investigation, so a lot of that information we just don’t have.”
Six officers and one sergeant were removed from street duty Thursday night, pending a review of the roles they played in the arrests of the 15 men. And suspicions about the officers in question have swirled publicly for years.
A former officer from the Internal Affairs Division tells NBC5 the officers, headed up by Sgt. Ronald Watts, were on IAD radar as far back as 2009. Former police officer Shannon Spalding says she and her partner discovered corruption by Watts and his team shortly after being assigned to the narcotics division. And, she says, when her complaints fell on deaf ears, she and her partner called in the FBI.
“Officers and supervisors were involved in running the narcotics trade within Ida B. Wells (housing project) and surrounding areas,” she told NBC5 in January of 2016. “There was a sergeant, and his crew, that were shaking down the drug dealers and they were paying them ‘taxes’ so that they could operate their narcotics trade with impunity.”
Spalding said she and her partner only went to the FBI after “it became very clear there was not going to be an unbiased investigation of these officers.”
That larger investigation was compromised at the federal level. Only Sgt. Watts and one other officer Kalatt Mohammed were charged. But Spalding said everyone involved in that investigation knew it went much further.
“I believe Watts, Mohammed, and the majority of his tactical team at the time that he was found guilty, or he admitted to being guilty, should have and would have been arrested as well,” she said.
Indeed, at the time of Watts arrest in February of 2012, NBC5 Investigates reported that many other officers were also under investigation and suspected of being involved in the wrongdoing. Then-Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy insisted there was no larger scandal.
“No,” he said. “There’s nobody involved except the two officers who were arrested.”
But the allegations wouldn’t go away. Spalding and her partner said they were blackballed within the department, eventually filing a very public whistleblower lawsuit which was settled by the city in the summer of 2016 on the eve of trial for $2 million.
Thruout, Spalding publicly insisted more officers had been guilty of wrongdoing. And there were numerous lawsuits, all naming the names of many of the very officers who were removed from duty Thursday night.
“They still have their badges, some of them them promoted,” Spalding marveled in the January 2016 interview. “It’s just mind-boggling to me that the Chicago Police Department was involved in this investigation, they were all aware that these other targets existed, yet they’re still on the street!”
Finally this week, after 15 more defendants walked free, the seven officers were removed from street duty and are now the targets of a formal investigation.