Chicago Police

In Chicago's Biggest Police Scandal, 88 More People Seek to Have Their Convictions Overturned

All of the cases involved former Sgt. Ronald Watts and officers under his command.

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In a case which has already become the largest scandal in Chicago Police Department history, attorneys are asking why it is taking so long for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to provide relief for dozens of individuals who say they were framed by corrupt officers. NBC 5 Investigates’ Phil Rogers has the story.

In a case which has already become the largest scandal in Chicago Police Department history, attorneys are asking why it is taking so long for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to provide relief for dozens of individuals who say they were framed by corrupt officers who worked for years at the former Ida B. Wells housing project on Chicago’s South Side.

There have been repeated mass exonerations in the case, with even the State’s Attorney’s Office admitting that scores of individuals had been framed by corrupt Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and officers under his command.

Fifteen people saw their cases vacated in the fall of 2017, at which time Mark Rotert, the head of the State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit declared, “In these cases, we concluded that unfortunately, the police were not being truthful.”

There was another mass exoneration in September 2018, with 18 more individuals, and another 10 in 2019. 

All told, nearly 90 people have seen their cases thrown out. At one hearing, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx appeared in person to offer an apology to those who had been victimized by Watts and his team.

“We have questions and concerns about the credibility of their testimony,” she said.

But there have been no Watts-related exonerations since last February. 

On Wednesday, the attorneys who have ushered all of those previous cases through the system appeared in court on behalf of 88 more individuals, pointedly asking why there has been no action in their cases, even though some of the names were given to the state four years ago.

“They are treating them differently,” attorney Joel Flaxman told NBC 5. “Why that is, I can’t give you an answer.”

In court, assistant state's attorney Carol Rogala told the judge her office is prepared to act on some of the cases. Afterward, a spokesman told NBC 5, “We will not object to relief for some of the petitioners.” How many that would represent isn’t clear.

After court, attorney Joshua Tepfer suggested there was no difference between the new cases and those the state has already tossed.

“Many of these people we’ve petitioned for have given statements in other cases because they were witnesses for people who have been exonerated,” he said.  “Or, they’re co-defendants of people who have been exonerated on the same exact arrest.”

The judge set the matter for a hearing at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 4.