A Chicago man who alleges he was framed by a crew of crooked police officer filed a federal lawsuit Thursday stemming from the 10 years he spent behind bars.
Ben Baker had long contended he was set up by Sergeant Ronald Watts and his tactical team at the Ida B. Wells housing project on Chicago’s South Side. He was freed from prison last January after presenting evidence in court that Watts and one of his officers, Khalatt Mohammed, had themselves been jailed on exactly the same charges he had alleged.
“They’d pull up every day and go to buildings, freely, and just take money out of people’s pockets,” Baker said. “It was a gang. They were serving and protecting themselves!”
Baker had high profile allies. Chicago Police officers Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria said they had uncovered the corrupt practices of Watts and his crew during a lengthy undercover investigation, but that it was abruptly terminated.
Spalding and Echeverria won a $2 million dollar settlement from the city, alleging retaliation from superiors for their investigation. While Watts and Mohammed went to jail, Spalding insisted in an interview with NBC5 that their investigation showed the entire tactical team was dirty.
“They still have their badges,” Spalding said. “Some of them were promoted.”
Baker echoed those sentiments.
“Watts' whole team,” he said Thursday. “Everybody that worked under Watts from the time he pulled over there to Ida B. Wells.”
Spalding and Echeverria’s case was scheduled to go to trial last May when the city abruptly settled, facing the prospect of repeated officers taking the fifth amendment on the stand, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself facing questioning about the city’s so-called “code of silence."
Those same issues are expected to be raised in Baker’s case.
“How this was allowed to happen, and how the city and the Chicago Police Department allowed this to happen,” said attorney Joshua Tepfer. “People who were working undercover have given sworn testimony to know that it’s a larger case.”
Celebrating his ninth month of freedom, Baker said today he wants answers in addition to compensation for the years he spent behind bars.
“I just want to know who all knew and how long they knew,” he said. “And why did they allow this to happen?”