Dozens who say they ended up framed by corrupt Chicago drug squad demand exoneration

Seventeen years later on, Rasaan Shannon still feels the bolt of dread that strike him

Seventeen years later on, Rasaan Shannon still feels the bolt of dread that strike him when his court-appointed law firm advised him he confronted up to 3 decades in jail for a drug cost he states was orchestrated by a corrupt Chicago police officer.

He also remembers the relief he felt following staying provided a plea offer that would land him in a boot camp for younger offenders for four months. He took it, pleading guilty even though he insisted the heroin experienced been planted on him by a team of officers, led by Sgt. Ronald Watts, who labored in the Ida B. Wells Residences public housing complex on Chicago’s South Aspect in the early 2000s. Shannon couldn’t demonstrate it, and he didn’t imagine any person would consider him.

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

Rasaan Shannon is a person of dozens who say they ended up framed by officers in 1 of Chicago’s greatest law enforcement corruption scandals.Courtesy Rasaan Shannon

That officer did change out to be corrupt. In 2012, Watts and another officer ended up arrested and later on pleaded responsible to federal theft of general public money charges, accused of extorting citizens and drug sellers in the housing undertaking.

Now Shannon is still preventing to be listened to, alongside with dozens of other people who say they have been framed by Watts and his staff in 1 of Chicago’s most significant law enforcement corruption scandals.

Because Watts and a former partner, Kallatt Mohammed, went to prison in 2013, prosecutors at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office have agreed to the exonerations of 87 men and women wrongfully arrested by the drug squad. But that number does not appear near to capturing the entire extent of the corruption, according to attorneys representing further individuals arrested by the squad.

There are an additional 88 folks with comparable promises, including some, like Shannon, who had been arrested together with folks who have by now been exonerated. Other people have furnished statements that helped exonerate even now other folks. Some say they were framed more than when some have experienced one particular conviction dismissed but not a different. A lot of of the 88 submitted their claims to the Prepare dinner County prosecutor for overview years in the past. But they have gotten no response, their lawyers say.

Instead than wait around any extended, the 88 and their attorneys are going straight to a decide. On Tuesday, they filed a petition in search of to dismiss their convictions.

“It’s B.S. and completely unfair and reveals what form of technique we have,” Shannon claimed. “And it’s why we’re accomplishing what we can to fight in opposition to the program.”

The petition, a draft of which was supplied to NBC News by attorneys Joshua Tepfer and Joel Flaxman ahead of the submitting, outlines the heritage and scope of the corruption, setting up with grievances 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 one particular appellate courtroom to accuse the town of failing to cease the corrupt officers.

Mohammed admitted in 2012 that he and Watts extorted safety payoffs from drug dealers, and a yr later Watts pleaded guilty to having countless numbers of dollars from a drug courier working as a private federal informant. That led to a wave of statements from individuals who claimed Watts and his team had planted medicine on them.

The circumstances involving the 88 alleged victims “are indistinguishable” from the drug arrests now considered wrongful, in accordance to the attorneys symbolizing them. The arrests occurred from 2002 to 2009. All of the people arrested ended up Black, and all the arrests ended up designed by Watts, who is also Black, or officers operating with him.

Several of individuals officers are even now operating for the Chicago Law enforcement Section, together with some who have been set on a Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office listing of officers deemed far too untrustworthy to be called to testify in a felony scenario. Aside 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 Police Accountability informed WBEZ public radio previous thirty day period.

Former Chicago law enforcement Sgt. Ronald Watts immediately after remaining sentenced to 22 months in jail in 2013.Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune through Getty Visuals file

In 2017, Tepfer and Flaxman labored out an arrangement with the state’s attorney’s place of work in which the alleged victims offered prosecutors with files, like sworn affidavits on their statements of staying framed. The state’s attorney’s business office reviewed individuals documents internally and made the decision no matter whether the convictions should be thrown out. For the most aspect, the workplace agreed.

That system labored well for a while, but the development has stopped, the lawyers stated. The past established of exonerations was introduced in February. The attorneys explained the state’s attorney’s business office has instructed a decide that the office is continuing to evaluate the promises.

“It’s very unsatisfying to us and our clientele, some of whom have been waiting for many years for the state’s attorney’s office to end its evaluate,” Flaxman mentioned.

Tepfer said the delay on scenarios that are so equivalent to those previously dismissed “shows that the evaluation is actually flawed. What is the regular they’re employing? We do not know.”

The Cook dinner County State’s Attorney’s Office environment claimed in a statement that it is continuing to assessment statements tied to Watts but would not remark on unique situations.

The Chicago Police Department did not respond to a ask for for remark past 7 days. But the company has stated in the past that it has “totally zero tolerance for misconduct and/or unlawful exercise” within just the department.

For Shannon, the wait around would make him experience that his declare is not currently being taken as seriously as the other people. He finds it discouraging and disappointing.

“I assume it’s a assertion of what the prison justice technique is,” he mentioned. “I just imagine it’s hypocrisy. It just sucks.”

Shannon was 17, on summer months crack from John Marshall Harlan Community Academy Large Faculty, when he was arrested by Watts and his fellow officers on July 3, 2004. In a police report, the officers said they observed Shannon and a guy named Derrick Lewis drop luggage of medicine although jogging from the officers inside of the Wells intricate. Both of those Shannon and Lewis were billed with drug possession.

In different sworn affidavits submitted in Prepare dinner County Circuit Courtroom in 2018, Shannon and Lewis recalled getting taken with other people to a police stationhouse, where Watts positioned bags of medicine in entrance of them and reported the medicines belonged to them. Some of the others who were being arrested experimented with to trade info about drug exercise for their release, but Shannon and Lewis explained they didn’t know something worthy of sharing. Lewis ended up pleading guilty, as effectively, and was sentenced to almost 3 decades in jail.

Shannon claimed he’d never ever been in major issues ahead of. He liked reading, science and nature and dreamed of a single working day jogging a nonprofit team that helped individuals.

He spent numerous weeks in the Cook dinner County Jail, where he claimed he was compelled to align with gang customers affiliated with his neighborhood to continue to be risk-free.

Cook dinner County Jail in Chicago.Jim Vondruska / Reuters

Right after his four months in a boot camp, he claimed, he came out a different particular person: toughened and cynical about foremost a law-abiding lifestyle. He went to a armed service recruiting station but was turned away due to the fact of his conviction, he explained. He began working medication.

“The knowledge remaining me with this mentality that the streets are my buddy,” Shannon mentioned. “It created me question the place of striving to do right. Due to the fact they could just plant medications on me all over again.”

In 2009, Shannon was caught stealing a gun from an officer who’d been critically hurt in a vehicle crash on Chicago’s South Side. He pleaded guilty to robbery and disarming a law enforcement officer and served much more than four decades in jail.

Shannon now phone calls that a “coward move” that he is ashamed of. But he claimed his steps mirrored his attitude towards police, which had soured with his working experience as a 17-yr-aged.

After finding out of jail in 2013, Shannon said he understood that a criminal life-style was not heading to support him or his household, like his younger daughter. He stopped dealing medication and tried out to remain out of trouble, he reported.

In 2018, soon after hearing about the initial wave of Watts-similar exonerations, Shannon sought out the Exoneration Task, the law company where by Tepfer works. The firm took up his case.

Lewis, the gentleman arrested with Shannon, arrived at out to the Exoneration Task, also. His arrest with Shannon was one of two scenarios in which he reported he was framed by Watts and other officers and was sentenced to prison. The two convictions were being dismissed in 2019 by way of the course of action in which promises had been submitted to the state’s attorney’s business office.

“What they did to us was incorrect, and they just cannot make it suitable other than to make positive that it cannot be completed to an individual else,” Lewis, 42, mentioned. “They can’t give us that time back again.”

It bothers him that Shannon hasn’t gotten exonerated.

“How could they deny him if they accused him of the very same matter they accused me of and we mentioned the exact detail from day one, that we didn’t do everything?” Lewis mentioned. “Whatever they touched must be undone. So what is the dilemma with Rasaan?”

Shannon claimed he is making an attempt to depart that portion of his existence behind him. He life in a Chicago suburb and is effective stocking shelves at a liquor retailer while attending culinary college. He needs to generate applications to support little ones in neglected Chicago neighborhoods like the a person where by he grew up. But he remains traumatized.

“I experienced dreams to do major issues in the world,” he said. “I have to do anything to make a variation.”