The National Registry of Exonerations announced on March 15, 2022, that 33 of the 45 exonerations announced in February involved people falsely accused of crimes by former Chicago police Detective Ronald Watts and the team of officers he supervised. This latest round of mass exonerations brings the total number of exonerations tied to Watts and his cop-thugs to 150. The total number of exonerations nationwide now numbers 3,166, which accounts for 27,200 years lost in prison based on wrongful convictions.
In the early to mid-2000s, Watts and cop-accomplices terrorized the South Side of Chicago by fabricating and planting evidence and falsely accusing hundreds of innocent people of color of criminal wrongdoing as part of their “protection racket” that included drug and gun smuggling.
After more than a decade of imposing police terror in the Ida B. Wells Housing Project, Watts was arrested by federal authorities and sentenced to 22 months in prison in 2013.
The staggering number of exonerations and scores of criminal convictions reversed because of the lawless conduct of Watts and his cop-thugs has led to dozens of civil lawsuits that will result in settlements adding to the more than 300 million dollars the City of Chicago has already shelled out because of misconduct by its police officers.
Cities across the nation have been, and are continuing to be, forced to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars because of police misconduct—official behavior that is too often not only condoned but rewarded.
Baton Rouge Police Department Embroiled in Coverup
For example, the much smaller Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) has a number of bad cops in its ranks. That’s not surprising. The BRPD has a long history of abusing, framing, and killing people of color.
In 2013, for example, the BRPD raided a home in a predominantly Black community and killed a 32-year-old Black man, Dontrunner Robinson, who they claimed died from choking on a bag of crack cocaine, which they said he ate right before the confrontation with police. Although passed off as an accidental death caused by ingesting drugs, the police in the BRPD knew differently. When Robinson arrived at the hospital, his face was beaten to a “mash,” and he had too many bruises to count. Relatives described Mr. Robinson’s face as so swollen as to make him unidentifiable.
A January 14, 2022 report in USAToday said officers while making jokes in idle conversations, referred to it as “The Flag Street Massacre.” The BRPD officers knew that fellow officers had killed a man and maintained a corrupt, criminal “code of silence” about the murder. The drug raid in which the murder occurred discovered $231 in cash and one rock of crack cocaine.
Nearly a decade before this tragic, murderous event, out-of-state police had rushed to Baton Rouge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to help the BRPD control the influx of people fleeing New Orleans. These officers were disturbed by the racism and violence the BRPD inflicted on the city’s black community. They left the city as quickly as possible.
Three years after the Flag Street Massacre, Baton Rouge police gunned down Alton Sterling outside a convenience store where he was selling CDs. The Alton Sterling killing, like the Michael Brown killing, became part of a growing national debate about white police officers killing unarmed Black men.
Good Cop on Wrong Side of Blue Line, Code of Silence
In August 2020, according to the USAToday report, a veteran BRPD narcotics detective named Jeremiah Ardoin came forward to let the department’s command structure know about the widespread criminal wrongdoing in the BRPD. The news of Ardoin’s breaking the “code of silence” spread quickly throughout the BRPD. The retaliation was swift.
In December 2020, BRPD intelligence officers raided Ardoin’s home, seizing a television and cameras they said were stolen. Ardoin said he bought the electronics from a friend of a friend, who he now believes is an informant for the BRPD. Ardoin received two misdemeanor charges of possession of stolen goods and criminal conspiracy.
Ardoin was placed on administrative leave pending the criminal allegations. Ardoin secured the services of a young civil rights attorney who had his client detail all the corruption and criminal wrongdoing he had witnessed inside the BRPD, including how the Black man was killed in The Flag Street Massacre.
Those revelations led the BRPD chief to shut down the department’s narcotics division and led local defense attorneys to find “thousands” of cases of police wrongdoing. The defense attorneys are now pushing for the release of dozens of innocent people wrongfully convicted because of the massive police misconduct, just like the Ronald Watts case in Chicago.
Ardoin recently filed a lawsuit in a Baton Rouge state court on May 24, 2022, alleging he was retaliated against and terminated because he exposed the wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, the family of Dontrunner Robinson is still waiting for justice from the lawsuit filed in connection with that killing.
There have been, and will continue to be, exonerations flowing from the massive corruption and criminal wrongdoing in the BRPD, especially in its narcotics division.
These kinds of police misconduct cases are not anomalies. The Louisiana State Police and scores of other police departments across the state are under civil litigation and criminal investigation for killing innocent people, framing suspects on trumped-up charges, and terrorizing communities of color.
These civil rights lawsuits, internal investigations, and criminal investigations by both outside federal and state law enforcement agencies into police misconduct are taking place at this moment in every state in the country.
And, yet, many White Americans wonder why people of color do not trust the police.