Over a dozen men convicted on drugs charges in Chicago have been exonerated after claiming they were framed by a police sergeant and his team of officers.
The convictions were vacated two months after lawyers for the 15 men filed a joint petition seeking to overturn 18 criminal drug convictions among them, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The dismissal is believed to be the first-ever mass exoneration in Cook County, according to the report.
“In these cases, we concluded, unfortunately, the police were not being truthful, and we couldn’t have confidence in the integrity of their reports and their testimony, and so, in good conscience, we could not see these convictions stand,” Mark Rotert of the Cook County Conviction Integrity Unit said during a press conference.
Seven officers working under Sgt. Ronald Watts, who went to prison for a related crime, have been placed on desk duty pending an internal investigation into the incidents, the Chicago Police Department said, CNN reported.
The exonerees alleged that Watts and his team of officers planted drugs on them during arrests between 2003 and 2008, and falsified police reports that led to their convictions, according to the Exoneration Project, a free legal clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.
All 15 men had served their sentences for the alleged crimes, according to the Exoneration Project.
One of them, Leonard Gipson, said he twice went to jail after being framed by Watts.
“If you’re not gonna pay Watts, you were going to jail,” he recalled. “I went to jail and did 2 years and 24 months for Watts. I came home, and he put another case on me.” the victim said.
Joshua Tepfer, a lawyer for Gipson, said officers also stole from the men they wrongly charged.
“They were skimming off people, and anyone who would get in their way, they would frame them,” he told CNN. “And anyone who tried to report them, they would frame them.”
Watts went to prison for stealing money from a drug suspect who was actually an FBI informant.
It’s stories like these that make us wonder how many others are out there. We can’t even begin to imagine…