Dozens more people framed by corrupt former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts saw their convictions overturned Friday, as the Cook County State's Attorney's office dropped its opposition to the final large group of people seeking to have their cases thrown out.
Forty-two individuals saw 44 cases dismissed Friday, bringing the total number of convictions connected to Watts that have now been overturned to 212, for 171 people. Those 212 convictions represented combined sentences of 440 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, according to attorney Joshua Tepfer, who represented many of the individuals.
"They're indefensible," Tepfer said of the cases. "You can't defend the indefensible."
The Watts scandal has for years stood as one of the most outrageous tales of corruption in Chicago history. Scores of defendants have made their way to court to dispute their cases connected to Watts, who went to prison over his team’s shakedowns and framing of residents at the former Ida B. Wells housing project for nearly a decade.
"Every time I got out, he put more drugs on me," said Gregory Dobbins, who said he was arrested by Watts three times, and saw his conviction overturned Friday.
"Watts came into our neighborhood and terrorized our neighborhood," said Tyrone Fenton, who spent two years in prison and whose case is now dismissed.
Last month, Cook County prosecutors balked at overturning the convictions of the final group. But in a stunning reversal Friday, the state changed course and dismissed them all, with Assistant State's Attorney Catherine Malloy declaring in court, "the participation or unknown interference of Watts and other discredited officers in these arrests and convictions raises concerns about the integrity of these cases."
"Somehow I don't understand how some of Watts' crew is still working… still being police officers," Fenton said. "They're still on the force, they're still making money. You know, we lost money. We lost time."
Most of the officers who worked under Watts are still with the Chicago Police Department, even though the State's Attorney says they will never again be called to testify in a criminal case.
"I would like them to be convicted as well," Fenton said. "I want them to do time just like we did time. I want them to be away from their families just like we were away from our families."
There have been two separate Civilian Office of Police Accountability reports on the Watts officers that have never been made public.
As this portion of the case draws to a close, those who brought it wonder when, if ever, there might be accountability for what stands as CPD's biggest scandal.
"There should be real actual consequences for those lies that were told under oath in court and put in police reports," Tepfer said. "Those are crimes."
More than 80 civil cases have been filed against the City of Chicago in connection with the Watts scandal, for which the individuals' attorneys said the city has so far paid more than $9.1 million to litigate.
The Cook County State's Attorney's office shared a form Friday for anyone seeking to have a case reviewed by the Conviction Integrity Unit.