Ten Chicago cops with ties to disgraced former Sgt. Ronald Watts are no longer being called as witnesses in any criminal cases in Cook County out of “concerns about their credibility,” according to records released Monday by State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
The unusual move was made five months ago after Foxx’s office threw out the convictions of 15 men who were allegedly framed by Watts and his crew, according to a letter sent to the Chicago Police Department’s chief legal counsel on Nov. 17.
Joe Magats, chief of the state’s attorney’s Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, wrote in the letter that after reviewing those cases, it was decided the 10 officers who worked closely with Watts could no longer be used as witnesses in pending or future criminal prosecutions “due to concerns about their credibility and alleged involvement in the misconduct.”
A total of 15 police officers associated with Watts’ crew over the years were placed on desk duty five months ago pending an internal Police Department investigation.
The decision by Foxx to reject the word of 10 veteran officers marked the latest fallout in a growing scandal over Watts’ nearly decadelong run of corruption, which ended in 2012 when he and another member of his team, Officer Kallatt Mohammed, were arrested for shaking down a drug courier who turned out to be an FBI informant.
So far, the scandal has prompted the state’s attorney’s office to reverse 31 convictions secured by Watts and his team, including the county’s first “mass exoneration” in November when cases against the 15 men were dismissed.
Several of those who were allegedly framed have since filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the city, Watts and other officers on his team. Records produced in that litigation show that the city’s police disciplinary agency, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, is currently conducting its own investigations into 22 cases involving Watts.
Asked last week why it was taking months for the internal police investigation to wrap up, Superintendent Eddie Johnson said reviewing nearly two decades worth of records takes time.
“I’m not going to rush to do anything just so that it appeases people that, you know, ‘finally something happened,’ ” Johnson said. “Because I want to get it right.”
Watts and his crew of tactical officers were accused of orchestrating a reign of terror at the now-razed Ida B. Wells public housing complex on the South Side, systematically forcing residents and drug dealers alike to pay a “protection” tax and putting bogus cases on those who refused to do so.
In case after case, when Watts’ targets complained — to the Police Department or in court — judges, prosecutors and internal affairs investigators all believed the testimony of Watts and other officers over their accusers, records show.
The cases also highlighted a broken system of police discipline that allegedly protected corrupt officers and punished those who tried to expose his corruption. Despite mounting allegations, Watts continued to operate for years amid a lengthy police internal affairs probe as well as investigations by the state’s attorney’s office and the FBI, according to court records.
In fact, two Chicago police officers who alleged they were blackballed for trying to expose Watts’ corruption years ago won a $2 million settlement in their whistleblower lawsuit.
When Watts was finally caught, it was on relatively minor federal charges. He wound up being sentenced to just 22 months in prison.
After his release, Watts moved to Las Vegas, records show. He has made no public comment about the allegations against him. In a recent response in one of the pending lawsuits, Watts invoked his Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination more than 40 times, court records show.
Jason Meisner, April 24, 2018, Chicago Tribune, “Cook County prosecutors bar 10 Chicago cops from testifying because of ties to corrupt ex-Sgt. Ronald Watts”, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-chicago-cops-corruption-ronald-watts-20180423-story.html