A judge on Friday threw out felony convictions of nine more people framed by a disgraced former Chicago police sergeant, including that of a man who gained fame more than two decades ago when his life in a notorious housing project was chronicled in an award-winning documentary.
The judge's ruling at the request of Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx's office is the latest chapter in a story of corruption that dates back years and led courts beginning in 2016 to start overturning convictions in drug cases of African Americans who were framed by former Sgt. Ronald Watts. With Friday's ruling, judges have thrown out well over 100 convictions. In some cases, Watts' victims refused to pay him money or did something that angered him; in others, there appears to be no reason for why he targeted them.
Among the seven men and two women whose cases were tossed out Friday was Lloyd Newman. In the 1990s, Newman and LeAlan Jones teamed up with a radio producer to create a 30-minute documentary called “Ghetto Life 101” about the Ida B. Wells Homes where the two teens lived. The trio then worked on another National Public Radio documentary about a 5-year-old boy who was dropped from a 14th floor window at the South Side housing project, winning a Peabody award and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. They also later wrote a book.
Like dozens of others at Ida B. Wells Homes, Newman eventually crossed paths with Watts. In a sworn affidavit, Newman said he was leaving his sister’s apartment in 2006 when Watts and another officer stopped Newman and searched him for drugs. Newman said he was not doing anything illegal and was not carrying drugs. He told the officers about the involvement with the NPR documentaries and said he was bound for college.
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Watts reached reached above the frame of a hallway door and produced a baggie of drugs, according to Newman, who was charged with felony manufacturing, delivery and possession of cocaine. After telling his attorney that he’d been framed, Newman followed his lawyer's advice and pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to two years probation.
What Watts and his tactical unit did to residents and drug dealers at the housing project stands as one of the largest scandals in the Chicago Police Department’s history. Foxx’s office said it is continuing to review cases.
Watts was involved with about 1,000 cases perhaps 500 convictions over an eight-year period that ended in 2012, according to Joshua Tepfer, an attorney for Newman.
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Watts and another officer pleaded guilty in 2013 to stealing money from an FBI informant. Watts was sentenced to 22 months in prison. Upon his release, he moved out of Illinois, according to published reports. Fifteen other officers associated with Watts and his unit were placed on desk duty pending an internal investigation. Department spokesman Howard Ludwig said Friday that the investigation is continuing and the 15 remain on desk duty.
But Tepfer was livid at the pace of the investigation and the fact that the officers continue to work for the department, particularly the officer who helped Watts arrest Newman.
“He's on desk duty, but he’s getting paid," Tepfer said. And, he said, the officer was promoted to sergeant in 2014.