Dozens who say they have been framed by corrupt Chicago drug squad demand exoneration

Seventeen yrs afterwards, Rasaan Shannon nonetheless feels the bolt of anxiety that strike him when his court docket-appointed lawyer instructed him he confronted up to a few many years in prison for a drug demand he states was orchestrated by a corrupt Chicago police officer.

He also remembers the relief he felt right after becoming made available a plea deal that would land him in a boot camp for younger offenders for four months. He took it, pleading responsible even nevertheless he insisted the heroin experienced been planted on him by a group of officers, led by Sgt. Ronald Watts, who worked in the Ida B. Wells Households public housing intricate on Chicago’s South Aspect in the early 2000s. Shannon couldn’t establish it, and he didn’t assume any one would imagine him.

“There was nothing at all I could possibly do,” Shannon, 34, mentioned very last 7 days, weeping as he recalled his arrest and conviction, which he explained derailed his senior calendar year of superior faculty and led him into gang existence. “It was all in the hands of this officer.”

Rasaan Shannon is just one of dozens who say they ended up framed by officers in a person of Chicago’s major law enforcement corruption scandals.Courtesy Rasaan Shannon

That officer did convert out to be corrupt. In 2012, Watts and a further officer have been arrested and later on pleaded responsible to federal theft of public resources charges, accused of extorting residents and drug sellers in the housing undertaking.

Now Shannon is still fighting to be listened to, together with dozens of other people who say they were framed by Watts and his crew in one particular of Chicago’s major law enforcement corruption scandals.

Considering that Watts and a former lover, Kallatt Mohammed, went to jail in 2013, prosecutors at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Business have agreed to the exonerations of 87 folks wrongfully arrested by the drug squad. But that amount does not arrive near to capturing the whole extent of the corruption, in accordance to attorneys symbolizing more men and women arrested by the squad.

There are another 88 men and women with identical statements, which includes some, like Shannon, who ended up arrested along with individuals who have now been exonerated. Others have offered statements that aided exonerate even now some others. Some say they were framed extra than at the time some have had one conviction dismissed but not a different. A lot of of the 88 submitted their claims to the Prepare dinner County prosecutor for evaluation decades back. But they have gotten no reaction, their legal professionals say.

Instead than wait around any longer, the 88 and their lawyers are heading straight to a decide. On Tuesday, they will file a petition in search of to dismiss their convictions.

“It’s B.S. and fully unfair and displays what sort of technique we have,” Shannon said. “And it is why we’re doing what we can to combat towards the technique.”

The petition, a draft of which was offered to NBC Information by lawyers Joshua Tepfer and Joel Flaxman forward of the submitting, outlines the heritage and scope of the corruption, starting off with complaints from people today Watts and his squad arrested. It describes the FBI sting that ultimately introduced him down and the wave of exonerations that led 1 appellate court to accuse the town of failing to stop the corrupt officers.

Mohammed admitted in 2012 that he and Watts extorted security payoffs from drug dealers, and a year afterwards Watts pleaded guilty to using hundreds of bucks from a drug courier working as a confidential federal informant. That led to a wave of statements from persons who explained Watts and his workforce experienced planted medication on them.

The cases involving the 88 alleged victims “are indistinguishable” from the drug arrests now deemed wrongful, according to the lawyers representing them. The arrests happened from 2002 to 2009. All of the people today arrested were being Black, and all the arrests were being built by Watts, who is also Black, or officers doing the job with him.

Several of people officers are even now performing for the Chicago Police Division, which includes some who have been put on a Prepare dinner County State’s Attorney’s Business office checklist of officers considered as well untrustworthy to be identified as to testify in a prison circumstance. Apart from Watts and Mohammed, none have been disciplined for their roles in the arrests that have been deemed wrongful, the city’s Civilian Office environment of Law enforcement Accountability explained to WBEZ general public radio final month.

Former Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts immediately after becoming sentenced to 22 months in prison in 2013.Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune via Getty Photos file

In 2017, Tepfer and Flaxman worked out an arrangement with the state’s attorney’s office in which the alleged victims offered prosecutors with paperwork, like sworn affidavits on their promises of staying framed. The state’s attorney’s office environment reviewed those files internally and made the decision no matter whether the convictions should be thrown out. For the most portion, the business office agreed.

That system worked very well for a while, but the development has stopped, the attorneys claimed. The last established of exonerations was introduced in February. The legal professionals explained the state’s attorney’s workplace has explained to a decide that the place of work is continuing to overview the statements.

“It’s really unsatisfying to us and our customers, some of whom have been waiting for several years for the state’s attorney’s office environment to complete its assessment,” Flaxman claimed.

Tepfer claimed the delay on situations that are so comparable to people currently dismissed “shows that the review is truly flawed. What is the regular they are using? We don’t know.”

The Cook dinner County State’s Attorney’s Workplace reported in a assertion that it is continuing to overview promises tied to Watts but would not remark on unique instances.

The Chicago Law enforcement Office did not respond to a request for remark very last 7 days. But the agency has reported in the earlier that it has “completely zero tolerance for misconduct and/or illegal exercise” in the division.

For Shannon, the wait around will make him experience that his declare is not being taken as very seriously as the many others. He finds it discouraging and disappointing.

“I imagine it is a statement of what the felony justice program is,” he said. “I just feel it’s hypocrisy. It just sucks.”

Shannon was 17, on summer season split from John Marshall Harlan Neighborhood Academy Superior College, when he was arrested by Watts and his fellow officers on July 3, 2004. In a law enforcement report, the officers stated they noticed Shannon and a person named Derrick Lewis drop bags of prescription drugs while jogging from the officers inside of the Wells complicated. The two Shannon and Lewis had been billed with drug possession.

In separate sworn affidavits submitted in Prepare dinner County Circuit Court docket in 2018, Shannon and Lewis recalled getting taken with other people to a law enforcement stationhouse, the place Watts positioned bags of medications in front of them and reported the medications belonged to them. Some of the other individuals who were arrested tried to trade information about drug action for their release, but Shannon and Lewis stated they did not know just about anything value sharing. Lewis finished up pleading responsible, as effectively, and was sentenced to approximately a few yrs in prison.

Shannon said he’d never ever been in serious difficulties ahead of. He loved reading through, science and character and dreamed of a single day operating a nonprofit team that helped individuals.

He expended a number of weeks in the Cook dinner County Jail, where he claimed he was pressured to align with gang users affiliated with his community to continue to be safe and sound.

Cook County Jail in Chicago.Jim Vondruska / Reuters

After his four months in a boot camp, he claimed, he came out a distinctive particular person: toughened and cynical about foremost a regulation-abiding life. He went to a army recruiting station but was turned absent because of his conviction, he claimed. He begun working medications.

“The encounter remaining me with this mentality that the streets are my buddy,” Shannon claimed. “It designed me concern the point of attempting to do right. Because they could just plant medicines on me once again.”

In 2009, Shannon was caught thieving a gun from an officer who’d been very seriously injured in a car crash on Chicago’s South Aspect. He pleaded responsible to theft and disarming a law enforcement officer and served much more than four a long time in jail.

Shannon now calls that a “coward move” that he is ashamed of. But he claimed his steps mirrored his frame of mind towards police, which had soured with his working experience as a 17-year-previous.

Following finding out of jail in 2013, Shannon claimed he recognized that a legal lifestyle was not going to assistance him or his family, together with his younger daughter. He stopped working prescription drugs and experimented with to remain out of trouble, he stated.

In 2018, following listening to about the to start with wave of Watts-relevant exonerations, Shannon sought out the Exoneration Project, the legislation agency where by Tepfer functions. The agency took up his scenario.

Lewis, the male arrested with Shannon, attained out to the Exoneration Task, also. His arrest with Shannon was just one of two circumstances in which he said he was framed by Watts and other officers and was sentenced to jail. Both of those convictions were dismissed in 2019 by the procedure in which promises had been submitted to the state’s attorney’s business.

“What they did to us was erroneous, and they just can’t make it ideal other than to make absolutely sure that it just cannot be carried out to a person else,” Lewis, 42, mentioned. “They simply cannot give us that time back.”

It bothers him that Shannon hasn’t gotten exonerated.

“How could they deny him if they accused him of the similar point they accused me of and we said the similar detail from day a person, that we didn’t do anything at all?” Lewis said. “Whatever they touched should really be undone. So what is the trouble with Rasaan?”

Shannon claimed he is trying to depart that aspect of his lifestyle driving him. He lives in a Chicago suburb and performs stocking shelves at a liquor keep though attending culinary faculty. He would like to develop plans to assist young children in neglected Chicago neighborhoods like the 1 exactly where he grew up. But he continues to be traumatized.

“I experienced desires to do massive things in the entire world,” he claimed. “I have to do some thing to make a change.”

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