Updated 4:19 P.M.
Cook County prosecutors are working closely with police-accountability advocates who petitioned last week for a court-appointed “special master” to identify wrongful convictions tied to corrupt former Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts.
“We have met with the petitioner multiple times,” Tandra Simonton, a State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “We are not opposed, in general, with the request of the appointment of a special master in this matter.”
“However, we still need to work out the parameters of what is being sought and what can be agreed upon,” Simonton said. “We hope to accomplish that by the next court date, January 18.”
Fabio Valentini, a top prosecutor in the office, appeared Tuesday at a brief court hearing with journalist-activist Jamie Kalven and his attorney, Joshua Tepfer, who filed the petition last week.
Tepfer said his cooperation with prosecutors predates Kim Foxx’s victory in a Democratic primary that ended former State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s reelection bid last spring. “Alvarez has been great on everything Watts-related,” he said.
Foxx defeated Alvarez after vowing to “fix” an office widely criticized for waiting 13 months to bring charges against the Chicago police officer who fatally shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Foxx then sailed past her Republican opponent in the Nov. 8 general election and took office last Thursday.
“I think we’re all on the same team with this one,” Tepfer said after Tuesday’s hearing. “Nobody wants to see the wrongfully convicted remain wrongfully convicted and everyone has an interest in identifying [them], so we’re very pleased.”
Watts and Kallatt Mohammed, an officer who served under the sergeant, pleaded guilty after their 2012 arrest for stealing drug money from what turned out to be an FBI informant. Both were sentenced to federal prison.
Police officers who investigated Watts and his team have described corruption allegations spanning more than a decade.
The 49-page petition calls for the special master to have subpoena powers to investigate the propriety of convictions obtained due to arrests by Watts or officers under his supervision.
Asked whether a special master could also pave the way for criminal charges against officers, Tepfer pointed to this year’s exoneration of Ben Baker and his wife Clarissa Glenn, both arrested by Watts’ team in 2005. Baker spent almost 10 years in Illinois prison before his release in January.
In those cases, Tepfer said, “several officers denied any wrongdoing in sworn testimony [and] filed police reports that now contradict [the] entire understanding of everyone, which is that Ben Baker [and] Clarissa Glenn were framed.”
A spokesman for the city’s Law Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the petition.
Kalven’s petition points to what could be a precedent — the court’s 2014 appointment of David N. Yellen, then-dean of Loyola University Chicago School of Law, to serve as special master to identify victims of disgraced Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
The petition asks LeRoy K. Martin Jr., the court’s presiding criminal judge, to appoint the special master. Tuesday’s hearing was before Judge Steven Watkins.