Cook County prosecutors are believed to be preparing to overturn the convictions of scores of individuals arrested on narcotics charges by corrupt Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and officers under his command.
Defense attorneys have petitioned the court to dismiss the cases of 83 individuals convicted on evidence presented by Watts and his team. And while the state is balking at overturning all 83, it is believed at least 50 cases, representing more than 40 people, will be thrown out.
"They all have credible claims that they are innocent and framed by this astoundingly corrupt group of police officers," said attorney Joshua Tepfer, who represents 55 of the 83 defendants.
Watts and his team worked for more than a decade in the former Ida B. Wells housing project on Chicago's South Side. During that time, residents complained that the officers manufactured hundreds of cases. Eventually, Watts and one of his officers were convicted on corruption charges and served time in prison. But attorneys and investigators close to the case alleged that all of the officers under his command were involved.
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"There's no way that this many false arrests were made, that this much wrongdoing occurred, without every officer knowing what was happening," said attorney Joel Flaxman, who represents 28 defendants. "The best anyone could claim is that they intentionally avoided finding out what was happening."
Tepfer said he discovered last week that the Civilian Office of Police Accountability had sent a report on the Watts case to Chicago Police Supt. David Brown last June. That report has never been released, and on Tuesday, Judge Erica Reddick ordered the agency to tender a copy for her review.
It is likely that secret report will be provided to defense attorneys and prosecutors under seal, as evidence relating to the current case. But it comes in the aftermath of a previous report from COPA, forwarded to Brown last March. That report has also never been released.
"These are extraordinarily within the public's interest," Tepfer said. "Yet the city is hiding them."
Reddick said because the current cases are so voluminous, she will handle them over three separate hearings next month. Both Tepfer and Flaxman said for those clients whose cases the state refuses to overturn, they will seek full hearings before the judge.
"Put my clients on the stand and let them tell their story," Tepfer said. "Because it is one horrendous story!"