By the Numbers: CPD Corruption – Watts Edition

In the hallways of the federal courthouse, a legal saga unfolds. A saga that details the heart-wrenching chronicle of Ben Baker, Clarissa Glenn, and countless others ensnared in the grip of corruption within the Chicago Police Department.

In 2016, Ben Baker and Clarissa Glenn filed their pending wrongful conviction lawsuit against the City of Chicago, former Chicago Police sergeant Ronald Watts, and his team. Over the past eight years, their case has grown into a complex mass action involving over 180 plaintiffs, all who were also victims of Watts’ and his underlings’ abuse.  The parties, courts, and others involved refer to this mass action as the “Watts Coordinated Proceedings.”

Here’s a snapshot of significant figures within these cases:

  • 183 lives broken and disrupted because of false arrests and convictions.
  • 459 years of collective time that victims were sentenced to following wrongful convictions.
  • $10 million dollars in Chicago taxpayers’ dollars spent on legal fees defending Watts’ indefensible actions.
  • 22 months of time that Watts spent behind barsafter he was caught by the FBI extorting an informant. United States v. Watts, No. 12 C R87 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 2, 2012).
  • 11 exonerees who have died since filing their respective lawsuits and will never receive justice.

In a long-awaited milestone in these cases, the court set trial for Baker and Glenn’s case to begin in January 2025. Theirs will be the first of the Watts Coordinated Proceedings to go to trial. But most civil cases don’t take nearly a decade to reach trial or a resolution. (In the US District Court of Northern Illinois, the median length of time for these types of civil rights cases to be resolved is 311 days.) So why has it taken so long in this case? The answer lies in the vast scale of injustice, a web of law enforcement incompetence, and a culture of corruption.

In the 2000s, Watts and his crew left a pathological wake of destruction behind on the west side of Chicago. They terrorized hundreds of residents and visitors of the Ida B. Wells Housing Project by framing people for drug crimes, extorting and stealing from others, and wielding their unchecked power over everyone they encountered. With so many victims of Watts and his team’s abuse, seeking redress is no small feat. The unprecedented reach of the officers’ misconduct has slowed these cases to a near gridlock as the courts strain to manage the quantity.  

Another explanation is that this lawsuit exposed a profound level of incompetence within the CPD and a culture still riddled with corruption all the way to its core. Most people do not enjoy admitting their faults—and high-ranking CPD officers are no exception.  CPD defendants have fought hard to delay, prolong, and belabor this litigation likely in an effort to conceal their faults.

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to that question, and regardless, I haven’t found an explanation that is comforting or satisfying to those who ask. Remarkably, after nearly eight years of litigation, our clients remain steadfast and unyielding, committed to ensuring accountability for those at fault in their quest for justice. So here’s to hoping that this legal saga is nearing its end, and that end delivers long overdue justice for those whose lives were upended from Watts’ malicious corruption.


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