15 fight to overturn convictions under allegedly corrupt cops

Evelyn Holmes Image
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
15 fight to overturn convictions under corrupt cops
An effort is underway to overturn the convictions of 15 people who claim corrupt cops put bogus cases on them.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- An effort is underway to overturn the convictions of 15 people all at once. They were arrested by a former Chicago police sergeant and other officers in his unit accused of planting evidence and falsifying arrests.

"No one ever believed in the situation. It's just coming out. The man's been dirty for years," said Jamar Lewis. He spent 5 years in prison and is one of over a dozen people who say they were convicted of crimes they did not commit after being framed by a crooked Chicago police officer and his crew. Aleon Thomas' father, Phillip, is another.

"He was treated wrong, unfair, unjust. Our family is saddened by this and so is he," Thomas said.

All maintain their innocence and claim Chicago Police Sergeant Ronald Watts and the cops in his tactical unit at the Ida B. Wells housing unit put bogus cases on them between 2003 and 2009 after they refused to pay a protection tax.

Watts ran from ABC7's cameras after a 2012 court hearing. This week, a court petition was filed on behalf of the group of 15 seeking to overturn their criminal drug convictions. Their attorney says there's plenty of evidence.

"This is a credibility contest. Who do we believe? The police officers or these citizens?" said Josh Tepfer, of The Exoneration Project.

And Tepfer says in case after case, when those targeted by Watts complained in court or to the police department, things got worse. That's what happened to a now 36-year-old Leonard Gipson when he filed a complaint with CPD's Office of Professional Standards.

"The first time he planted something on me. The second time I bonded out. I came home and put OPS on him. I never heard back from OPS. Three months later he put another case on me," Gipson said.

Gipson eventually plead guilty and spent four years in prison.

In 2011, Watts was caught in a sting -- along with another member of his team -- stealing money from a FBI informant. Both were indicted and convicted in February 2012. Watts was sentenced to 22 months in prison.

The Chicago Police Department did not respond to a request for comment, but in a statement a spokesperson for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office said: "Our Conviction Integrity Unit's review of Watts-related matters is ongoing. We will continue to review these matters on a case-by-case basis and take appropriate action."

Jamar Lewis said he's still plagued by the past.

"I still got situations trying to get jobs. Vindication is not the case here," Lewis said.

The conviction of Ben Baker, who spent 10 years in prison after being framed by Watts, was overturned in January of this year. Several of the other officers in Watts' crew are still on the force, and at least one of them has been promoted to sergeant.

A hearing on the petition is set for next week.