CHICAGO (CBS) — A judge has cleared drug convictions from the records of 18 more men who were arrested by a corrupt former Chicago police sergeant and his team.
At least 42 men now have been exonerated, after they allegedly were framed by Sgt. Ronald Watts and officers under his command.
“I’m just happy that I’m able to move forward with my life. It’s been four years out of my life that I had to be away from my family, kids,” said Martez Wise, one of the 18 men exonerated on Monday.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx apologized to the men who were cleared on Monday, and said she hopes dismissing their cases rights wrongs of the past, and proves to the community that the justice system works.
The Conviction Integrity Unit at Foxx’s office is still working on dozens of cases tied to Watts, trying to determine if any other convictions tied to Watts were the result of frame-ups.
Watts pleaded guilty in 2012 to stealing from a homeless man who posed as a drug dealer as part of an undercover FBI sting. He admitted to routinely extorting money from drug dealers, and was sentenced to 22 months in prison.
“This crew of officers was just dirty,” said attorney Joseph Tepfer, with The Exoneration Project. “They were really dirty, and they were really dirty for a long time, and these are just made-up cases. There’s no victims, they’re just made-up cases. The victims are these men.”
Dozens of men and women have said Watts and his team terrorized them in or near the former Ida B. Wells housing project in Bronzeville between 2003 and 2008. Watts and his officers allegedly planted drugs on suspects and falsified police reports.
“Watts and his whole crew, they stayed up in there. They had a house up in there somewhere. They was the drug dealers,” said Mister Pearson, who was among those exonerated on Monday.
The latest move to drop charges tied to Watts come less than a year after another mass exoneration, when prosecutors cleared 15 men who were framed.
At least seven officers who worked with Watts were stripped of their police powers and placed on desk duty after last year’s mass exoneration.