A top Chicago police official under Supt. Eddie Johnson helped snare a promotion for an officer with dozens of misconduct complaints and close ties to two cops who had recently been jailed on federal corruption charges.
Fred L. Waller — now the patrol bureau chief, the department’s third-ranking member — was commander of the Wentworth police district in 2012 when he nominated Alvin Jones for sergeant.
Jones, an officer in the district, had drawn at least 40 complaints since starting with the department in 1996, according to police records obtained by WBEZ through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
The promotion also took place 10 months after the arrests of Jones’ longtime boss, Sgt. Ronald Watts, and fellow tactical team member, Kallat Mohammed.
Watts and Mohammed were arrested for stealing what they thought was drug money from an FBI informant. Both pleaded guilty and served federal prison sentences.
Jones’ relationship with Watts is visible in his complaint record. The two were accused together in 10 complaints, according to the records. Those allegations ranged from theft to excessive force and illegal arrest. Officials did not find the officers at fault in those incidents.
When Waller nominated Jones for the promotion, Johnson was Area Central deputy chief, Waller’s supervisor. Soon after becoming interim superintendent last March, Johnson tapped Waller to head the patrol bureau, where he oversees thousands of officers.
Waller told WBEZ it would be wrong to assess his nomination of Jones for promotion by looking at Jones’ complaint record or the arrests of Watts and Mohammed.
“Did you look at the other side of the coin?” Waller asked. “You’re taking a one-sided view of that person.”
Asked to elaborate, Waller referred WBEZ to police department spokesmen.
One of those spokesmen, Frank Giancamilli, said Waller made the nomination based on Jones’ police work.
“When we needed volunteers, he volunteered,” Giancamilli said. “He got results on the streets (and showed) leadership ability.”
Giancamilli also said that Waller “was not aware of potential wrongdoing or the complaint record.”
Shannon Spalding said she doesn’t buy that. She served as an officer under Waller when he was a sergeant. She later worked undercover on the FBI investigation that led to the Watts and Mohammed arrests.
Waller not only commanded the arrested officers in Wentworth. A few years earlier, according to police records, Waller served alongside Watts and his team in a South Side public-housing unit, another assignment where the team drew complaints.
“It would be nearly impossible to not have either direct knowledge or some speculation that Watts and his team, which included Al Jones, were corrupt,” Spalding said.
Waller’s nomination of Jones for sergeant went to the department’s Merit Board before former Supt. Garry McCarthy signed off on the promotion.
McCarthy had said in a news conference after the arrests that no other officers were involved in the Watts scandal “except for the two officers that were arrested.”
In light of the arrests, Cook County judges have thrown out four convictions linked to the team. Jones, according to police reports, worked on all of them. He also testified in one case that went to trial. His testimony helped imprison the defendant, Ben Baker, for almost 10 years before he was exonerated.
Johnson told WBEZ last month that he did not know anything about Jones but added that “CPD has an obligation to be accountable for everything.”
“So, things that we should go back and take a look at, we will,” Johnson said.
Giancamilli, the police spokesman, later told WBEZ that the department’s general counsel, Charise Valente, has begun a review of the overturned convictions and related allegations against the involved officers.
Jones did not respond to requests for comment. Giancamilli said Jones is assigned to the department’s Area South division, which oversees five patrol districts.
On Thursday, a judge granted Lionel White, another exonerated defendant, a certificate that paves the way for him to seek Illinois compensation for serving two years in prison after his Watts-linked conviction.
The evening after the Watts team arrested him, White was brought to the hospital by other officers. He claims he had been beaten up by Jones. Hospital records describe blunt-force trauma injuries.
Years after his release from prison, White says he ran across Jones in a grocery store and was surprised by what he saw.
“I’m like, man, he got a white shirt on,” White said, referring to the garb of a CPD ranking officer. “I don’t understand how Alvin Jones makes sergeant. . . . This is not like they didn’t know [his team] was crooked.”
Investigative reporting and in-depth journalism at WBEZ is made possible in part with support from Doris and Howard Conant.