CPD Strips Powers From Sergeant Tied To Cops Who Stole Drug Money In 2012

stock image of Chicago police officer vest
Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
stock image of Chicago police officer vest
Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

CPD Strips Powers From Sergeant Tied To Cops Who Stole Drug Money In 2012

A Chicago police sergeant who was on an elite citywide unit created by Supt. David Brown could face discipline for his role in a narcotics arrest more than 15 years ago involving corrupt former Sgt. Ronald Watts, WBEZ has learned.

Sgt. Alvin Jones, according to a police spokesman, has been assigned to desk duty and stripped of police powers. The city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability and the Chicago Police Department have both completed reviews of his case, according to another city official close to the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.

“Alvin Jones should not be a police officer,” said Joshua Tepfer, an attorney for dozens of people whose Watts-tied felony narcotics convictions have been thrown out by judges. “Jones was a core member of Watts’ team from the very beginning. Many of my clients say he framed them, beat them and was part and parcel of Watts’ corruption.”

Officials have not revealed whether COPA and Brown have agreed on findings and recommendations for discipline in the case, which could end up before the Police Board, a city entity that makes final decisions about the most serious discipline recommendations.

Jones, who served for years on a tactical team led by Watts, would be the first CPD member to face discipline in the scandal since the former sergeant and Officer Kallatt Mohammed, another member of the team, were arrested in 2012 for stealing what they thought was drug money from an FBI informant, according to COPA.

Watts and Mohammed were sent to federal prison.

But Jones, 10 months after his boss and teammate were arrested, was promoted to sergeant. That promotion was based on a nomination by Fred L. Waller, who oversaw the Watts team as the Wentworth District commander. Waller’s supervisor at the time was Eddie Johnson, a deputy chief who became CPD superintendent three years later and tapped Waller to oversee thousands of officers as patrol chief.

Wave of exonerations

For more than a decade, the Watts team was the subject of allegations that it planted drugs and false charges on people who refused to pay extortion fees at Ida B. Wells, a housing complex in Bronzeville.

Jones’ disciplinary case concerns the December 2005 arrest of Wells residents Ben Baker and Clarissa Glenn on drug charges, according to city records obtained by WBEZ. Baker already had drug charges pending from an arrest by the Watts team that year. Jones played roles in both Baker arrests and testified at the trial in the earlier case. Baker was convicted in both cases and spent nearly a decade in prison.

The convictions were thrown out and the charges were dropped in 2016 amid allegations that the Watts unit had framed Baker because he refused to pay a street tax. Baker and Glenn were given certificates of innocence. They brought a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the city and police officers including Watts, Mohammed and Jones.

The Baker and Glenn cases were the first of 110 convictions linked to the Watts crew that judges have vacated. Those cases involve 87 exonerees. Most have since brought federal lawsuits against the city.

As part of evidence discovery in those suits, Jones last year gave a sworn deposition about his work on the Watts team. Jones testified that when he and other members of the unit would enter an Ida B. Wells building to investigate alleged narcotics sales, they would stop people indiscriminately.

“If we’re hitting a building, it’s our understanding from our expertise that they are trying to get away from the police, whatever, and they may have had the narcotic passed off to them,” Jones said, according to the deposition transcript. “If we’re going [to] run up on a building, yeah, we stopping everybody we can.”

The U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

Jones could not be reached for comment. His attorney William E. Bazarek referred questions about the deposition and discipline case to the city’s Law Department, which contracts with Bazarek’s firm Hale & Monico.

Corporation Counsel Celia Meza, who heads the Law Department, and its spokeswoman did not answer questions on behalf of Jones or about the status of his case.

Promotions of Watts team members

City and police officials looked the other way for years as allegations about the Watts unit piled up. Later, after Watts and Mohammed went to prison and the number of exonerees ballooned, city and police officials left more than a dozen former members of the unit on duty.

In 2018, however, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office notified CPD that prosecutors would no longer call Jones and nine other former Watts team members to testify in criminal cases due to “concerns about their credibility.” The nine include Brian Bolton, Darryl Edwards, Robert Gonzalez, Manuel Leano, Lamonica Lewis, Douglas Nichols Jr., Calvin Ridgell Jr., Gerome Summers Jr. and Kenneth Young Jr.

By then, Johnson was superintendent and Waller was patrol chief. Johnson insisted that Jones and the other Watts team members remained fit for police duty.

“There’s nothing in furtherance that would suggest to me to remove police powers from anyone,” Johnson told WBEZ. “They haven’t been convicted of anything. They haven’t been accused of anything. They simply worked on the same team with [Watts].”

That approach to former Watts crew members on the force continued after Johnson’s removal as superintendent. Last spring, around the time Brown took CPD’s reins, Nichols was promoted to detective, according to city records.

Under Brown, according to a CPD spokeswoman, Jones was assigned to the Community Safety Team, a roving unit the superintendent formed last year to tamp down a gun violence surge and strengthen police-community relations.

That assignment came despite at least 45 formal complaints about Jones since he started with the department in 1996, according to the Citizens Police Data Project, a nongovernmental effort to compile and post CPD disciplinary records.

Jones was found at fault in just one of those cases, a 1999 incident in which four bags of suspected crack cocaine were found in the backseat of a police vehicle after he and his partner used the vehicle to arrest a drug offender. They were both ordered a one-day suspension.

This March, after investigating Jones and other Watts crew members for more than three years, COPA finally delivered its findings and discipline recommendations to Brown. City officials have kept a tight lid on that report.

Don Terry, a CPD spokesman, said the department relieved Jones of police powers on June 2 and assigned him to the Alternate Response Section, which handles nonemergency calls.

A long-running FBI investigation into the Watts team remains active, according to sources with knowledge of the probe.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1. Contact him at cmitchell@wbez.org.