Police Board to Hold Evidentiary Hearings for 4 Cops Tied to Disgraced Ex-Chicago Sgt. Ronald Watts

(Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)(Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)

A Chicago police detective and three officers with ties to disgraced ex-Sgt. Ronald Watts have been relieved of their police powers and face possible termination stemming from an investigation that dates back nearly two decades.

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The Chicago Police Board will move ahead with evidentiary hearings to determine “whether the officers violated any of the Chicago Police Department’s rules of conduct and, if so, the appropriate disciplinary action,” Vice President Paula Wolff wrote in her decision Thursday.

That means the officers — Robert Gonzalez, Manuel Leano, Brian Bolton and detective Douglas Nichols — could be fired from the department. WBEZ first reported on the decision. A CPD spokesperson on Friday said the officers are all active members of the department, but have been relieved of their police powers, pending investigations.

All four are connected to Watts, who has been accused of routinely shaking down dozens of residents and guests at the Ida B. Wells housing project for more than a decade in the early 2000s.

If they didn’t pay up, Watts and others would allegedly plant drugs on them and lie about it under oath. Those cases have been cited as a leading cause of Illinois’ spot atop the list of most criminal exonerations reported in recent years.

The latest move stems from two 2006 incidents: a “reverse sting” operation led by a tactical team supervised by Watts that led to the arrests of 11 people, and the separate arrest of Lionel White Sr., whose subsequent drug convictions were later thrown out after he served more than two years in prison.

According to Wolff’s decision, all four officers are accused of failing to report misconduct allegedly committed under Watts’ watch. Leano and Gonzalez also allegedly filed written reports falsely accusing people of drug purchases in 2006.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which probes police misconduct allegations, took over the investigation into these cases in 2017, and chief administrator Andrea Kersten made disciplinary recommendations against the four late last year.

Then interim-police superintendent Eric Carter — who served briefly as top cop this year following David Brown’s resignation in March — disagreed with that decision and “proposed action different from that recommended,” according to Wolff.

Wolff said the disagreement between the sides stems from the issue of whether COPA presented sufficient evidence to prove the allegations against the officers.

She added that her decision to move forward with evidentiary hearings is not based on the officers’ innocence or guilt, but rather “the Superintendent has met the affirmative burden of overcoming COPA’s findings and recommendations in this case and whether the recommendations and evidence should be heard by the Police Board.”

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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