In 2013, Chicago police officer Ronald Watts pled guilty to demanding protection payoffs for years from drug dealers in the Ida B. Wells public housing complex. Watts is currently serving time in federal prison. Watts’ conduct was called a “betrayal” and “unconscionable” by the judge who sentenced him.
Despite the deplorable nature of Watts’ conduct, the FBI refused to produce its investigative files on Watts because it considered Watts’ privacy interests to outweigh the public’s interest in knowing about the investigation. We disagreed, and on behalf of our client, Ben Baker, we sued FBI to force it to release the records. Ben Baker was wrongfully convicted of a drug charge in 2006 based on Watts’ testimony. Mr. Baker is seeking the FBI’s records to assist him in proving his innocence.
In response to our suit, the FBI has changed its position and withdrawn its privacy claim and will begin producing the Watts file in April. When it does, we’ll make the file public on our website. We hope that this case represents not just a change of course with regard to Watts, but that FBI now recognizes that the public’s right to know the details of an investigation into convicted officers always outweighs any alleged privacy interest. If not, we will be ready to file suit to force change.
For more information about our Freedom of Information Act practice, click here.