William Carter always insisted he had been framed.
Carter did four years in prison after an arrest on drug charges at the hands of officers under disgraced Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts. Watts was accused by even fellow officers of running a rogue group of cops who allegedly shook down and framed drug dealers and other residents at the Ida. B. Wells housing project on Chicago’s south side.
Watts and one of his officers would eventually go to jail himself. But the majority of his tactical team remained on the force, even though two undercover officers said the entire team was suspect.
Last month, Carter and another man, Bruce Powell, became the fourth and fifth individuals to convince the court that they had, indeed been framed. On Friday, Carter appeared in court seeking a formal “certificate of innocence”, a public declaration from the state that he had indeed committed no crime.
“The state has done the right thing and moved to vacate Mr. Carter’s convictions,” attorney Joel Flaxman told NBC 5. “We want to get a statement from the court that says he is innocent, that says there was not evidence to convict him, he didn’t do anything, he was framed, here is a piece of paper that says you are innocent.”
For his part, Carter said he would welcome that public acknowledgement.
“They placed narcotics and cases on me that led me to do time,” he said. “I basically was targeted by the City of Chicago’s police officers.”
In court, prosecutors told Chief Judge Leroy Martin they likely will not oppose Carter’s request---but asked for more time to file a formal reply. The next court date is set for September 14th.
The entire affair has been a troubling episode for the Chicago Police Department, and could open a Pandora’s Box of hundreds of potentially tainted convictions.
The Watts team was accused by residents, and the two undercover Chicago police officers, of corrupt activity that continued for years. Watts and one of his officers were charged and convicted in Federal court. But the majority of his team remain on the force to this day.
With Carter and Powell’s exonerations, a total of five individuals have been reversed. But there are plenty more waiting to be heard.
“I believe every case that implicates these officers needs to be thrown out,” says defense attorney Joshua Tepfer. “We need a clean slate.”
Tepfer has already seen three clients exonerated. But the state is fighting efforts to free another of his clients, Anthony McDaniels.
Ironically, Tepfer notes, McDaniels was arrested by the very same officers who were on Powell’s arrest report----and the state agreed that arrest was tainted.
“These same group of officers, under Watts, many of whom are still making arrests and testifying in court, were corrupt,” Tepfer told NBC 5 last month. “They framed individuals, they perjured themselves, they falsified police reports. Eight convictions have been vacated. Yet we know there are probably hundreds of arrests that they made, hundreds of convictions!”
Tepfer and other attorneys have argued that the officers’ collective work was so tarnished, none of their arrests could be considered valid.
“Just about everybody who was arrested and convicted based on evidence gathered by, created by, fabricated by these officers, has convictions that should not stand,” Flaxman said.