Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he has no reason to strip police powers from 10 officers that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office said it will no longer call as witnesses in criminal cases due to “concerns about their credibility.”
A letter from Foxx’s office to the police department said those officers will not be called to testify in any pending or future criminal cases and that the credibility concerns are tied to their work with former Sgt. Ronald Watts, who went to federal prison for corruption.
Johnson said he has put the 10 on desk duty but, as WBEZ’s Chip Mitchell reports, he is letting them keep their police powers. That raises the prospect of those officers making arrests in cases later dropped for lack of a credible witness.
What is known about the officers
For more than a decade, local and federal authorities investigated allegations a South Side tactical unit led by Watts was shaking down drug dealers and framing people.
Watts and Kallatt Mohammed, one of the officers he supervised, were arrested in 2012 for stealing thousands of dollars from a purported drug courier in an FBI sting.
The two officers were sent to federal prison. The rest of their unit remained with CPD.
Since January 2016, judges have vacated at least 32 felony drug convictions tied to the unit.
The 10 cops, named in two letters from Foxx’s office to CPD, include Sgt. Alvin Jones and police officers Brian Bolton, Darryl Edwards, Robert Gonzalez, Manuel Leano, Lamonica Lewis, Douglas Nichols Jr., Calvin Ridgell Jr., Gerome Summers Jr., and Kenneth Young Jr.
They are among 15 CPD officers who, according to a WBEZ report last month, are subjects of a federal investigation stemming from their work with Watts.
Watts-related cases could embarrass a top police official under Johnson. Fred Waller, the department’s patrol chief, nominated Jones for his sergeant promotion 10 months after the Watts and Mohammed arrests
What the officers are doing
CPD says it has reassigned the 10 to administrative work such as recordkeeping and answering non-emergency phone calls.
But they still have their police powers. Like other cops, they have their badges, the responsibility to make arrests when they observe crime, and the authority to use force.
“There’s nothing in furtherance that would suggest to me to remove police powers from anyone,” Johnson said. “They haven’t been convicted of anything. They haven’t been accused of anything. They simply worked on the same team with [Watts].”
If one of those officers sees someone break the law, Johnson said, “he should not ignore that crime.”
“He should do what he has to do and then we’ll deal with what we have to deal with on the back end of it,” Johnson said.
Dealing with it on the back end, according to a police spokesman, might entail dropping the charges if there is no other responding officer in the case.
That does not sit well with Sharon Fairley, a former federal prosecutor who headed a city agency that investigates police misconduct complaints and who ran for Illinois attorney general in the Democratic primary this March.
“These individuals really are not fit to perform all of their duties, which includes testifying in court,” Fairley said. “It does seem to say that having them indefinitely in this [condition] is OK with the department and I think it just undermines the value of having police officers that we can count on.”