Cook County, Ill., prosecutors headed by State’s Attorney Kim Foxx dropped all charges against 15 men they say were framed by a corrupt cop, with reports that this is the “first mass exoneration in history.”
When the 45-year-old African American took office, she promised to target gun crimes in city neighborhoods and revamp a branch of her office that investigates possible wrongful convictions, the Conviction Integrity Unit.
On Thursday, Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. threw out the convictions en masse. The Chicago Tribune reports that there may be more to come.
Mark Rotert, head of the Conviction Integrity Unit, said that prosecutors are working through old cases.
“Cases have to be evaluated individually and on their own facts,” Rotert said after the dismissal of the charges against the 15 men.
At issue are the actions of Sgt. Ronald Watts and his team, who made more than 1,000 arrests, according to the Tribune. There are reportedly more than 400 convictions tainted by Watts and his men, according to a lawyer for some of the men exonerated. The Tribune reports:
Five people had previously seen their Watts-related convictions thrown out, so Thursday’s move brought the total to 20. In addition, two Chicago police officers who alleged they were blackballed for trying to expose Watts’ corruption years ago won a $2 million settlement in their whistleblower lawsuit.
Watts has repeatedly been accused of forcing residents and drug dealers alike to pay a “protection” tax and putting bogus cases on those who refused to do so. In case after case, when Watts’ targets complained—to the police department or in court—judges, prosecutors and internal affairs investigators all believed the testimony of Watts and other officers over their accusers, records show. In addition to the alleged frame-ups by Watts, the petition filed in September highlighted a broken system of police discipline that allegedly protects bad officers and punishes those who tried to expose his corruption.
Watts and an officer under his command were sent to federal prison in 2013 for stealing money from a drug courier who’d been working as an FBI informant.
At least seven other officers who were part of Watts’ team are still on the force, some receiving promotions.
Read more at the Chicago Tribune.