All charges dismissed against 15 men in largest exoneration in Cook County

COOK CO. – On Thursday, the Cook County State’s Attorney dropped all charges against 15 men who said they were framed by former cop Sgt. Ronald Watts and his team of officers.

Cook County prosecutors made the request Thursday as 10 of the men stood before Judge Leroy Martin Jr.

The 15 men together had 18 convictions. All of them were convicted in 2003 to 2008 for drug crimes. Some of the men are already free, but some are still serving time.

The men allege that Watts and his team of officers planted the drugs on them, framed them and falsified police reports.

"If you're not gonna pay Watts, you were going to jail," said the newly exonerated Leonard Gibson who suffered multiple convictions at the hands of Sgt Watts when he refused to pay money.  "I went to jail and did two years, 24 months for Watts.  I came back home, he put another case on me."

Joshua Tepfer of the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago is representing the men whose petitions he filed in September and those which Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx has agreed.

Sgt. Watts and Officer Kallatt Mohammed were convicted and are now free but as many as seven others officers are still on the job but have never been charged.

Tepfer said the officers targeted men living in South Side housing projects from the early 2000s for over a 10-year period by framing them by creating evidence and planting drugs on them and at times taking their proceeds.

He said it was systemic in nature and those at the highest levels of the Chicago Police Department knew about it and did nothing to stop it.

"This corruption was covered up by the highest levels of the Chicago Police Department," he said. "It was swept under the rug."

Officers Mohammed and Watts served less than three years. Tepfer said they and others in their circle continued to operate despite investigations by internal affairs, the state's attorneys office and the FBI.