At his trial on drug charges nearly a decade ago, Ben Baker told a seemingly far-fetched tale about a corrupt band of Chicago police officers who ran a housing project like their own criminal fiefdom, stealing narcotics proceeds, shaking down dealers for protection money and pinning cases on those who refused to play ball. A judge at the time said he believed the testimony of veteran Sgt. Ronald Watts and officers under his command, not Baker’s accusations that Watts and his crew had framed him, reports the Chicago Tribune. Two years ago Watts was convicted on federal corruption charges after being snared in an FBI sting. Now, Baker is seeking to overturn his own conviction and 14-year sentence in a case that casts a spotlight on the police code of silence. The Tribune calls that “a red-hot issue amid fallout from the dashboard camera video of Laquan McDonald’s shooting.”
In a court filing this week, his lawyers revealed dozens of pages of court and law enforcement records showing the Chicago police internal affairs division had been aware as far back as the late 1990s of corruption allegations involving Watts’ team of tactical officers, yet did nothing about it. The filing cites a whistleblower lawsuit filed by two Chicago police officers who allege they faced repeated retaliation after going to supervisors about their discovery of the police corruption. When their complaints fell on deaf ears, they worked undercover for the feds, helping nab Watts. “The fact that every effort has been made not only to cover it up but to blame the police officers who uncovered it is beyond troubling,” said Baker’s lawyer, Joshua Tepfer of the Exoneration Project.