‘People Have Been Absolutely Framed’: Biggest Mass Exoneration In Chicago History Sees 212 Convictions Linked to Dirty Cop Wiped Clean
More than 200-Black and brown people were set up by a dirty Chicago cop known to prowl the city’s Southside, now their records are being wiped clean.
“This is the biggest mass exoneration in Chicago history,” said Tyrone Fenton, who is among the hundreds affected. “I was kind of terrified,” he went on to say.
Fenton, 48, is among 43 others to have their petitions to vacate drug convictions approved on April 22, stemming from former Chicago police sergeant, Ronald Watts, a well-known cop who developed a reputation of threatening, harassing and framing people on Chicago’s predominantly Black and brown southside.
“He used to say this a lot, you know I’m going down, and if I go down, I’m going to take a lot of people down with me, these are the things he used to say,” Fenton said of Watts.
Fenton fell victim to Watts unethical policing back in January 2006, when he and two others recently left a funeral, that’s when Watts and his gang of officers approached them to shake them down for drugs.
“Watts kept asking us, where the drugs at, where are the guns, and we’d say, there aren’t any guns or drugs out here,” Fenton said.
Fenton’s affidavit described what happened next as Watts arrested the men, took them to the police station and delivered on the bad reputation he was known for of planting drugs on innocent people, mostly men.
“The next thing you know, they come out of the back room with three big Ziploc bags what I know now was heroine and would put it on the table and I’d ask, what’s this for and what’s that and they didn’t say anything. I kept saying what’s this, I hope you all aren’t going to put this on us, and they’d say yeah, this is y’all and you are about to go to jail for it,” Fenton said of his experience.
Fenton was charged with heroin possession and spent two years in an Illinois state prison. “I felt less than human, less than a man for him to come do it to me and to see him doing it to others as well, it kind of makes you scared and terrified,” Fenton said.
Thankfully for Fenton, he was among hundreds who had their drug convictions vacated because of Watts’ shady antics finally catching up to him after an investigation led to a federal indictment in 2012 where Watts and fellow officer Kallatt Mohammed pleaded guilty to stealing money from an FBI informant.
In 2013, Mohammed was sentenced to a year and a half in prison and Watts was given two years in prison for their crimes according to the Exoneration Project.
“All of the people you have sent away, that equals to up to over 400 years,” Fenton said of the combined time spent behind bars for the bogus drug crimes Watts imposed on innocent Black and brown Chicago residents. “You’ve gotten 22 months, and now you’re back out living your life,” he went on to say of Watts relatively brief prison sentence.
Chicago’s State Attorney Kim Foxx says since she took office in 2006, she’s cooperated with petitioners in vacating a total of 212 convictions involving Watts because of his corruption.
In a statement she acknowledged all of the petitions to dismiss cases because of Watts have been addressed, but she went on to say, “the investigation into cases involving Watts and other patterns of misconduct continues.”
This leads Fenton and defense attorney Josh Tepfer to question why other officers complicit in Watts’ misconduct haven’t been held accountable.
“A group of those officers were put on desk duty when we had the first round of mass exonerations, what desk duty means, I don’t really know,” Tepfer said.
Atlanta Black Star sought comment form Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) for comment on Watts and learn the status of other officers who worked alongside Watts, but our request was not returned at the time of this report. Tepfer says his office also tried getting their hands on COPA’s report on the other officers.
“There’s been two reports we know that have been issued. One is over a year old it was in March of 2021 and the other was in July of 2021, but nobody has seen them, they have not been made public. We think that’s in violation of the law, we’ve sued to make them public. Literally yesterday we were told they were going to release some of it. They didn’t,” Tepfer said of COPA and the city of Chicago’s lack of transparency.
Although at least one dirty cop faced some semblance of accountability, Fenton says more work needs to be done to rid Chicago’s police department of bad cops.
“Two hundred-twelve Black people have been absolutely framed and nobody cares to this day,” Tepfer said. “Our Black mayor does not care. These are disposable human beings. They’ve spent to this day over $9.2 million dollars defending these officers.”
“We know there’s other dirty cops out here that’s getting away with things as well, probably doing the same thing he was doing and probably still out here on the force,” Fenton said of the remaining work Chicago’s police need to do to repair the damage done within Black and brown communities.