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City releases long-awaited COPA report on Watts scandal – NBC Chicago

After fighting for more than a year to keep it a secret, the city of Chicago released a report on the disgraced former police sergeant on Thursday. Ronald Watts and his team, who trapped and rattled residents of the Ida B. Wells housing project for over a decade.

The report from the Civilian Police Accountability Office is the first from the watchdog agency to be made public regarding the scandal. More than 250 convictions related to Watts and his team have since been overturned.

“The police who were terrorizing this housing project were making a lot of money,” attorney Jon Loevy, who is part of the legal team representing several of those who were exonerated, said at a press conference on Friday morning. .

“Not only were they running a protection racket where they made people pay not to arrest them, but they themselves were involved in the drug trade. And they were stealing money and drugs. And then they resold them,” Loevy continued. “So to keep that going and to allow them to be successful, they were putting fake cases on people, anyone who got in their way.”

Watts and another officer were arrested in 2012 and eventually went to jail for the scheme. No other officer involved was ever charged.

The newly released 33-page report focuses only on cases involving two people who have since been exonerated: Clarissa Glenn and her husband Ben Baker. But dozens of other people have made similar allegations against Watts and many of his crew.

“Being belittled and humiliated, you’ll never get over it,” Glenn said in tears at a Friday morning news conference, recalling his time in jail following his 2005 arrest which the report acknowledges was engineered by Watts and his crew.

The report is the culmination of a nearly four-year investigation, completed in March 2021 – nine years after Watts’ arrest. He finds fault with only one member of his team: Sgt. Alvin Jones.

“Jones enjoyed great official authority and brazenly abused it for his own gain,” the report said, adding that his conduct demonstrated “a flagrant disregard for the principles of justice, his oath and the rule of law.”

COPA advised the CPD to fire Jones as “a necessary step in restoring community confidence.” He resigned in May this year – 14 months after this recommendation.

“We need answers from the city on why it took so long to release this,” attorney Joel Flaxman said. “We need answers from the city on why they fought every step of the way to release this. And we need answers from the city on why they let this continue, that even before this investigation , there was plenty of evidence that the city knew it was There were numerous complaints and the city took no action against these officers.

Jones was one of 10 officers named in a letter from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in November 2017, advising the CPD that he would never again call those officers to testify in a criminal case “due to concerns about their credibility and alleged involvement in Sergeant Watts’ misconduct.”

Compensation histories obtained via a public records request show Jones earned more than $600,000 in salary, overtime and more after this letter was sent. Several other members named in that letter remain on the force to this day, still collecting paychecks as the city’s investigation into the scandal progresses at a glacial pace.

“What about those other officers? When are they going to be held accountable?” asked attorney Joshua Tepfer.

“We want real change,” Flaxman added. “We want the city to live up to what it tells us every day about transparency, police misconduct and really doing things differently that it’s time for a change. And it’s until something real happens in these cases.”

It’s unclear how many more COPA investigations into individual allegations against Watts’ team may be ongoing. The CPD and COPA declined to comment.

But for Glenn, the release of this report was a victory.

“It’s not easy to relive and communicate what happened to me,” she said, listing the agencies and public officials she had previously contacted in an attempt to prove her innocence. “Now this is where we’ve been telling the truth for years and years and years. It’s a shame because where we’re from, no one would listen. No one would believe us.”

The city is currently facing 85 federal lawsuits from individuals who say they were framed by Watts and his team, attorneys said Friday, estimating the city’s legal bills related to those cases have reached about $10 million.

Lawyers also said they expected the number of prosecutions to double following the latest mass exoneration earlier this year.

NBC Chicago

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