NBC 5 Investigates has learned that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office has written the Chicago Police Department, submitting a list of police officers no longer deemed credible to serve as witnesses at criminal trials.
The nine officers on that list, and a tenth who has since been added, are associated with disgraced former Sgt. Ronald Watts, who was accused of framing residents of the former Ida B. Wells housing project on Chicago’s South Side.
Already, a total of 15 officers who were members of Watts’ tactical team, or otherwise associated with him, had been placed on desk duty as they were investigated for past behavior. Over 20 individuals have had their convictions reversed, after questions were raised about evidence generated by Watts and his crew.
The letter, from Joe Magats, chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, says the officers will not be used “as witnesses in any pending or future matters handled by the State’s Attorney’s Office, due to concerns about their credibility and alleged involvement in the misconduct of Sgt. Ronald Watts.”
Watts and one of his officers, Kallatt Mohammed, were eventually charged federally and did prison time themselves, in connection with the wrongdoing.
This week, Federal complaints were revealed against two of the exonerees, caught up in an undercover federal heroin investigation. When one of those men, Ben Baker, appeared in court Thursday, friends and relatives packed the gallery to show support.
Baker was accused of delivering heroin on three different occasions, and fentanyl in a fourth, incidents which the complaint stated were captured on undercover video.
“I’m very concerned about the fentanyl,” said judge Mary Rowland. “If you kill someone with fentanyl on my watch, I’m never going to forgive you for that.”
Baker was freed from a downstate Illinois prison in January of 2016, after attorneys provided evidence that he had been railroaded to jail by Sgt. Watts and his crew. Since that time he has been working for a local trucking company, and the owner of that firm sent a letter to the court voicing support and asking for his release.
“He’s been doing nothing but working and supporting his family,” defense attorney Molly Armour told the judge. “His history and characteristics show someone with deep character.”
Prosecutors argued for Baker to be kept in custody. But Judge Rowland agreed to grant him bail.
“I’m particularly impressed that you have an employer who says, I want him back,” the judge said.
After court, Armour said it should speak volumes that so many people had come to court to show support.
“Where we are here is we can see a human being who is surrounded by profound support,” she said. “And I think that no one can possibly be judged by who they are on their worst day.”
A second exoneree from the Watts case, Jamar Lewis, is due in court on Friday.