CHICAGO (SUN TIMES MEDIA WIRE) - A man who was wrongfully imprisoned for a decade before being released earlier this year has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago and 17 Chicago Police Department officers, including convicted former sergeant Ronald Watts.
Ben Baker, 44, and his attorneys announced the 10-count federal lawsuit Thursday, alleging the police department’s “code of silence” allowed his wrongful conviction and imprisonment.
Baker was arrested twice at the Ida B. Wells public housing development after officers assigned to the development said he was caught in possession of narcotics with intent to deliver.
In June 2004, Baker was told that Sgt. Watts planned to attribute drugs supposedly found in a mailbox at the development to Baker, according to the suit. Watts told Baker that if he gave Watts at $1,000 bribe, Baker would still have to “fight the case,” but Watts would ensure that he would beat it.
Baker refused, and was arrested on July 11, 2004. He spent four-and-a-half months in the Cook County Jail before the case was dismissed, the suit claims.
Baker was arrested again on March, 23, 2005, according to the suit. Baker alleges that arrest was retribution for his refusal to pay Watts a bribe. He was convicted in 2006 of two counts of possession of a controlled substances and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
While Baker was out on bond on that case, on Dec. 11. 2005, he and his wife were arrested and charged with felony drug crimes, according to the suit. They claim the arrest was the result of their attempts to expose the officers’ corruption.
After Baker was convicted in the previous case, his wife pleaded guilty in exchange for probation so she could avoid prison and raise their three children, though she claimed to be innocent.
At the time of Baker’s arrests, an investigation of Watts and his crew was “well underway” by the FBI, with the knowledge of the police department’s Internal Affairs Department, according to the lawsuit.
Watts and one of his crew were convicted and imprisoned in 2013 after they were caught in a 2011 FBI sting, according to the suit.
Baker was freed earlier this year after the Exoneration Project took up his case and found evidence of the corruption. Both of his convictions were vacated, and he received two certificates of innocence.
The suit seek an unspecified amount in damages. A spokesman for the city’s Law Department did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.