The Chicago Police Department is gathering records to turn over to prosecutors trying to identify wrongful convictions tied to corrupt former Sgt. Ronald Watts, according to a police spokesman.
“We’ve just been asked to compile the data thus far (about) cases involving Sergeant Watts,” CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.
A statement from Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit “is actively working to identify any other individuals wrongfully convicted in cases tied to Watts.”
The FBI in 2012 arrested Watts and Kallat Mohammed, a cop he supervised, for stealing what they thought was drug cash. Both pleaded guilty and served federal prison sentences.
The arrests followed long-running allegations that Watts and his team were taxing drug dealers and framing people who would not pay.
Since last January, four convictions linked to arrests by his crew have been thrown out.
In November, journalist and civil-rights advocate Jamie Kalven petitioned Cook County Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. to appoint a “special master” with subpoena powers to identify other wrongful convictions linked to Watts.
The state’s attorney’s office and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration said they did not oppose that request.
At a hearing last Wednesday, Martin raised questions about Kalven’s standing to bring the petition and about the court’s suitability to carry out the investigation.
Martin said he could foresee petitions from “someone like Mr. Kalven every time a police officer makes a misrepresentation or testifies falsely.”
“I’m not quite sure why the state’s attorney’s office isn’t able to deal with it instead of burdening the taxpayers,” Martin added.
Joshua Tepfer, an attorney for Kalven, answered that there are capable attorneys willing to serve as special master pro bono.
Tepfer likened what the petition seeks to Judge Paul Biebel Jr.’s 2014 appointment of a special master to identify inmates with valid claims of coerced confessions at the hands of disgraced Cmdr. Jon Burge and detectives he oversaw.
Tepfer pointed out that the allegations about Watts’ team, like those against Burge’s crew, spanned more than a decade.
With or without court intervention, efforts to identify wrongful convictions involving Watts could shed more light on the sergeant’s former team.
A member of that team, WBEZ reported this month, was promoted to sergeant in 2012 with help from Fred L. Waller, tapped last year by Supt. Eddie Johnson to be the department’s patrol bureau chief.
Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.