Exonerated Individuals Ask Court to Formally Declare Their Innocence

Fifteen Chicago men whose convictions were thrown out in November are now asking for formal certificates of innocence.

All of the men said they were framed by disgraced former Chicago Police Sergeant Ronald Watts and the tactical team he once commanded on Chicago’s South Side.

“If they show up for jobs, for housing, any other sort of opportunities, those arrests, those wrongful convictions still show up on their records,” said attorney Joshua Tepfer, who represents the group. “A certification of innocence allows that to be wiped clean.”

Certificates for the former suspects would also be the first step in recovering damages from the state.

Tepfer noted that even the state agreed the charges against the men, 18 convictions in all, should be dismissed, and that prosecutors said they will not intervene in this effort.

“In these cases, we concluded, unfortunately, that police were not being truthful,” Mark Rotert, the head of the State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit said when the cases were overturned two months ago. “We couldn’t have confidence in the integrity of their reports and their testimony.”

Watts and his tactical team worked the South Side for more than a decade. Even some fellow officers made allegations of illegal behavior, including frameups and shakedowns.

Watts and one of his officers, Kallett Mohammed, eventually went to jail themselves. But others from the crew remained on the force.

At least 20 individuals, with 26 convictions among them, have been exonerated by the courts. Shortly after the latest convictions were overturned, seven remaining members of Watts’ tactical team were placed on desk duty.

Tepfer suggested many more convictions could be in the pipeline.

“Every single one of their arrests, every single one of their investigations that led to convictions needs to be vetted,” he said. “What that number is, I’ve said many times, is at least 500.”

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