Former Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts, right, leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Oct. 9, 2013, after being sentenced to 22 months in prison. Watts was accused of stealing thousands of dollars from a purported drug courier who turned out to be an informant for the FBI in an undercover sting. (Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune)
Two men with separate drug convictions tied to disgraced former Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts had their convictions tossed out of court this week, making them the latest to have their names cleared because of Watts’ corruption.
Both men — William Carter, 31, and Bruce Powell, 50, — had been released years ago from prison after completing their sentences for drug convictions tied to Watts and his crew.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office sought the dismissals as part of a continuing review of Watts-related cases by its Conviction Integrity Unit, spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said Tuesday. LeRoy Martin Jr., the presiding judge at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, granted the request Monday.
"The code of silence and a failure of discipline allowed (the Watts team) to run roughshod," said attorney Joel Flaxman, who represented Carter and Powell in the court proceedings.
The Chicago Tribune has written several front-page stories since last year detailing the fallout over Watts’ nearly decadelong run of corruption. At least three other defendants had their convictions thrown out previously based on allegations that they were framed by Watts and his team.
Potentially dozens more could be under review by prosecutors.
Watts is a former public housing officer notorious for shaking down drug dealers for protection money and pinning false cases on those who wouldn’t play ball. He and another officer, Kallatt Mohammed, were arrested by the FBI in 2012 and later pleaded guilty to stealing money from a federal informant. Watts was sentenced to 22 months in prison. Mohammed received an 18-month term on the same charge.
Carter had three separate narcotics convictions connected to Watts that were thrown out of court Monday. He spent four years in prison until his release in early 2010.
Members of Watts’ crew had framed him in retaliation for his complaints against them, his attorneys alleged.
Flaxman said he plans to sue Watts and the city in hopes that Carter would be awarded financial compensation for his time in prison.
Powell pleaded guilty to a charge of drug possession in 2009 and was sentenced to two years in prison. He is currently charged in a separate drug case that is still pending in court.
Documents from the Police Department show that Powell’s sister had filed a formal complaint against two officers — members of Watts’ crew, according to Flaxman — after Powell called her from the police station and told her he had been falsely arrested and subjected to multiple intrusive bodily searches.
Watts was initially assigned to investigate the complaint, the records show, but Powell’s sister declined to cooperate with him. Another supervisor ultimately ruled that the allegations were unfounded.
Meanwhile, prosecutors have told an attorney for Anthony McDaniels that they don’t plan to drop his gun conviction.
McDaniels, who is still in prison on the conviction, alleged that Watts’ team pinned the gun on him.
"I’m disappointed," said Joshua Tepfer, McDaniels’ lawyer. "It’s my firm belief that … we can’t have trust in any of these convictions."