what is official misconduct?
Official misconduct is an illegal act or failure to act, on the part of a prosecutor or police officer, especially where there is an attempt to sway the jury to wrongly convict a defendant or to impose a harsher than appropriate punishment. Prosecutorial misconduct can occur in many forms, including bad lawyering, government misconduct, or even incentivizing snitches. In other cases, overworked lawyers sometimes fail to investigate, call witnesses, or adequately prepare for trials, leading to the conviction of innocent people. In some cases, government officials take steps to ensure that a defendant is convicted despite weak evidence or even clear proof of innocence. And often times, statements from people with incentives to testify are the central evidence in convicting an innocent person.
cook county mass exoneration
In late 2017, The Exoneration Project, an Innocence Network group at the University of Chicago, spearheaded the first "mass exoneration" in history. On November 16th, 2017, the drug convictions of 15 individuals were thrown out in response to the misconduct of former Cook County Police Sergeant Ronald Watts and several of his subordinate officers.
Watts, who was a 19-year police veteran, resigned from his position several years earlier in 2012 after he and another officer were caught stealing thousands of dollars from a drug courier who was an FBI informant working in an undercover sting. Kallat Mohammed and Watts were arrested and in 2013 sentenced to 18 and 22 months prison terms, respectively.
Their arrests and convictions aggravated a community that was already concerned with the department's conduct and demanded transparency, which led to an investigation which revealed that their most recent shakedown was only the tip of the iceberg. Over a dozen complaints had been submitted regarding Watts and his officers, dating back to the early 2000s. Claims were made by both the defendants and officers who worked under Watts, stating that for nearly a decade Watts ran an extortion racket targeting residents in the projects and drug dealers. When targets of their scheme failed to comply, Watts and his men would plant drugs or weapons on the target, make improper arrests, and ultimately lie under oath, in order to punish those who did not cooperate. In many of the cases, defendants pled guilty to charges, convinced that their own personal account of the incidents would not be believed over the word of a supposedly trusted official.
Many of the men exonerated had already spent several years in and out of prison, fighting against the false charges. Ben Baker was implicated by Watts and his team on three separate occasions. In one incident, his wife, Clarissa Glenn, was also targetted by the corrupt police team. However, Baker accepted a "deal" in which he received a two-year sentence and his wife received probation so that she could remain at home and care for their children.
More detailed information on several of the Cook County misconduct cases can be found online at the National Registry of Exonerations including the stories of Ben Baker, William Carter, Clarissa Glenn , Bruce Powell , and Lionel White, Sr.