The largest scandal in the Chicago Police Department's history continued to grow Friday, as prosecutors asked a judge to throw out the convictions of nine individuals who said they were framed by a rogue sergeant and the tactical team under his command.
"This is an ongoing and active investigation," Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Nancy Adduci told the judge. "However, as to these nine cases before you, the people have lost confidence in some of the evidence that is the foundation of these convictions."
The nine individuals in question, Mark Giles, Bryant Patrick, Jermaine Morris, Lloyd Newman, Tyrone Herron, Eveless Harris, Trinere Johnson and Catrina Bonner, had all been arrested by officers working with disgraced Sgt. Ronald Watts. The sergeant and his tactical team worked for years at the former Ida B. Wells housing project. And over a hundred of the cases they developed have now been thrown out, as prosecutors conceded they were probably fabricated by the arresting officers.
Only Watts and one of his officers, Kallat Mohammed, were ever charged in the scandal.
"There's a whole team of officers who worked with them," said attorney Joshua Tepfer, who represents scores of men and women who have seen their cases dismissed. "Watts and his team invented a drug crime that didn't happen."
More than a dozen other officers were pulled from the street and assigned to desk duty as they were investigated. But over three years later, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability has yet to rule on those cases.
"Watts went to prison for 22 months, Mohammed for 18 months," Tepfer noted. "No one else has been charged, no one else has lost their job, no one else has been disciplined."
The allegations were so egregious that the State's Attorney's office took the unusual step of sending a so-called "do not call" letter to CPD, saying that at least 10 of the officers would never be allowed to testify again in a criminal proceeding, due to concerns about their credibility.
"We heard over three years ago that officers were being placed on desk duty and investigations were beginning, and that's the last we heard," said attorney Joel Flaxman, who also represents dozens of exonerees. "But they are accused in just about every case that has been thrown out."
A COPA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement, State's Attorney Kim Foxx said her office is continuing to review cases associated with Watts and his men.
"There's a lingering pit in my stomach due to the real sorrow that for so long, Sergeant Watts and his crew were able to terrorize and criminalize a community," Foxx said. "Vacating the convictions of these nine people today who were targeted by Watts provides just a fraction of relief for those who spent time in prison, away from their families."
Tepfer says he has at least 70 more cases in the pipeline, and expressed frustration that the exoneration efforts are not moving more quickly. And he said he found the mayor's pronouncements about improving the lives of Black citizens hollow in light of the Watts scandal.
"Mayor Lightfoot has done absolutely nothing but continue to pay these officers' salaries and finance their defense in the civil lawsuits that have happened because of this," Tepfer said. "The City of Chicago should be absolutely ashamed of themselves."