The 15 men together had 18 convictions.
Tepfer said the officers targeted men living in South Side housing projects from the early 2000s for over a 10-year period by framing them by creating evidence and planting drugs on them and at times taking their proceeds. He stands about 6 feet tall and weighs over 200 pounds.
"I just feel like right now, it's a brand new beginning for me", he said. "I can start over and do what I want to do ..." All 15 had filed a petition alleging Watts and his crew framed them between 2003 and 2008.
The Cook County State's Attorney's office said a review by its Conviction Integrity Unit "has shown a pattern of narcotics arrests that raises serious concerns about the validity of the resulting convictions for these 15 defendants". After reviewing the cases, Rotert said, the office did not have confidence in the police reports and testimony. Ten of the 15 defendants appeared in court Thursday at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse to have their slates wiped clean.
"Watts always told me, 'If you're not going to pay me, I'm going to get you.' And every time I ran into him, he put drugs on me".
In 2013, Watts was sentenced to 22 months in jail.
Leonard Gibson, whose two sentences sent him to prison for six years, said Watts would demand money, and if he wasn't paid would plant drugs on someone and arrest that person.
Gipson has claimed Watts did this to him twice in 2003, demanding thousands of dollars. After pleading guilty and serving two years in prison, he said Watts again framed him in 2007, leading to another year behind bars.
"Everybody knew if you're not going to pay Watts, you were going to jail", Gipson said. "That's just the way it was gonna go".
Another one of the exonerees, 58-year-old Phillip Thomas, said he was victimized for years. "There was no way of getting away from them". In that case, five retired police officers indicated they would take the Fifth Amendment rather than testify about how they obtained his confession. On Thursday he felt vindicated for the first time.
According to ABC7, The Exoneration Project "found 1,000 arrests by Watts and 501 convictions, and that to date 26 of those convictions have been investigated and overturned". "And it's all because of backgrounds ... it's tough for us all right now, but now we have an opportunity to do something better with our lives". His corruption came to light when he stole money from a drug courier who was working as an Federal Bureau of Investigation informant.
"The actions of Ronald Watts must be condemned by all of us, and we will continue our work to ensure the abuses of the past are never repeated in the future", Emanuel and Johnson said in the statement.
Officers Mohammed and Watts served less than three years.
Looking to Advertise? Contact the Crusader for more information.
"I don't have the raw numbers", he said. "In these cases, we concluded that unfortunately, the police were not being truthful".