In a case which is proving to be a growing embarrassment for the Chicago Police Department, more than a dozen more individuals have come forward, insisting they were framed by an alleged crew of rogue officers who worked together on Chicago’s South Side.
Already, at least five individuals have had cases overturned after declaring they were framed by disgraced Sgt. Ronald Watts and the tactical unit he commanded at the former Ida B. Wells housing project on Chicago’s South Side. Now, 15 new individuals have come forward, saying they were also set up by Watts and his crew. All of the cases took place between 2003 and 2008, a time the petition says “the Watts-led corruption was at its apex.”
“He used to pull me over all the time and tell me that ‘you going to have to pay me if you want to be down here’,” said Leonard Gipson, who says he was jailed by Watts and his officers on at least three different occasions. “He demanded from me, $5,000 to $10,000 every time.”
Watts and another officer from his crew, Kalatt Mohammed were both convicted in Federal Court for extorting protection payments from drug dealers. As part of those cases, the petition notes, Watts testified that “while he took some money on some occasions, Watts was getting ‘many thousands of dollars at a crack.’”
“Significantly,” the Gipson’s petition notes, “the government’s sentencing memorandum makes clear that Watts’ criminal conduct included falsifying charges against individuals who would not work with him in his criminal scheme.”
In the newest cases, brought by attorney Joshua Tepfer, all of the individuals say they were likewise innocent and framed, and in almost every instance, Watts signed the police reports as the supervising officer.
“This is a credibility contest,” Tepfer said. “Who do we believe, the police officers, or these citizens----well who do we believe now?”
Significantly, many of the officers involved in the complaints remain on the force to this day.
“These officers were planting enormous amounts of drugs, guns, and other contraband on these people, Tepfer said. “The credibility has been deteriorated of these officers to the point of destruction!”
The Watts team was heavily investigated by the FBI and other agencies. Two undercover Chicago officers, Daniel Echeverria and Shannon Spalding, said they tried to expose Watts’ crew, but were blackballed in the department as a result.
“We were basically called liars,” Spalding said.
She and Echeverria eventually won a $2 million whistleblower lawsuit against the city, which was settled at the last minute when it became obvious that Mayor Rahm Emanuel would have to testify.