Another season of the CBS Whistleblower TV show, Whistleblower. Thank you to all the viewers who made season one such a success. And obviously, no whistleblower TV show exists without the brave whistleblowers who made our community a better and safer place.
Whistleblower TV Show Season Two – Episode List
Season 2, Episode 1: Chicago Police Department
Episode 1: Whistleblower TV Show Highlights Chicago Police Corruption
“Whistleblower” is back for a second season on CBS, and it starts off with one of the biggest scandals in police history. This episode profiles Shannon Spalding, who filed a massive whistleblower lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department in 2012.
Chicago Police Officer Was Planting Drugs, Making Wrongful Arrests
When Shannon Spalding joined the Chicago Police Department in 1996, she was thrown into the thick of it. She was given one of the PD’s most dangerous assignments: patrolling the South Side projects, a housing complex with seemingly rampant gang and drug activity. Despite the danger, Spalding loved her job, and she looked up to her supervisor, Sergeant Ronald Watts.
Spalding was later assigned to the narcotics division as an undercover cop. She would purchase drugs, and her partner Danny Echeverria would come in and make an arrest. But Spalding and Echeverria began to notice something interesting. Arrestees were saying, “Why are you arresting me when one of your own is running the narcotics trade?” It happened often enough that Spalding became curious about what was really going on.
As it turned out, what the arrestees were saying was true. Sergeant Watts, Spalding’s mentor, was lining his pockets with drugs, guns and cash from dealers in exchange for their freedom and protection. He was also extorting residents of the Ida B. Wells housing projects by planting drugs on them and falsely arresting them. Depending on how uncooperative residents were, Watts would plant one or two bags of drugs, or enough to put them behind bars for decades.
For years, Watts and his cronies had been terrorizing residents of the Ida B. Wells projects, including Ben Baker and his wife Clarissa. In March 2005, Watts planted 110 bags of heroin and 68 bags of crack cocaine on Ben and arrested him when he refused to pay $1,000. While Ben was out on bail, Watts planted drugs on him again, this time arresting Ben and Clarissa in front of their small children. Clarissa took a plea deal, but Ben was convicted of a serious felony and sentenced to 14 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
FBI Launches Investigation into Chicago PD and Ronald Watts
Watt’s misconduct became too big to ignore. Spalding convinced Echeverria to go to their supervisors in 2007, but nothing was done. A few months later, they decided to go to the FBI. Around the same time, Clarissa Baker went to the FBI, too. The Bureau initiated a top-secret investigation called “Operation Brass Tacks.”
With the FBI’s help, Spalding and Echeverria went undercover and investigated Watts for two years. They couldn’t tell anyone what they were doing, and the pressure to gather intel was intense. Eventually, the FBI investigation began to cut into their work time, so they were forced to tell Police Internal Affairs (IAD) what they were doing. Spalding found out that Watts had been on the chief’s radar for years, yet no action had been taken.
Spalding and Echeverria were promised protection by the force, but in 2010, their identities were compromised. Their supervisor cornered them in a parking lot and told them the commanding officer said they were “IAD rats” and had ordered officers not to help them in an emergency. Spalding said the retaliation at work was “swift and brutal.”
As retaliation began to ramp up, Spalding was comforted with a small victory. Watts and one of his officers, Kallatt Mohammad, were arrested in February 2012. They were caught stealing $5,000 from a dealer, who was actually an undercover FBI informant wearing a wire. Watts was sentenced to 22 months in prison.
Chicago PD Pays Out $2 Million for Whistleblower Lawsuit
10 months later Spalding and Echeverria filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against the City of Chicago and 12 police officers for conspiracy and first amendment rights violations. IAD sergeants interrogated Spalding and demanded that she drop the lawsuit, but she refused. As the lawsuit dragged on, Spalding dealt with near-daily retaliation. Finally, in June 2014, she retired from the police force for good.
Meanwhile, attorneys at the Exoneration Project legal clinic were doing their own investigation of Watts. In 2015, they connected with Clarissa Baker, whose husband Ben was still in prison on false charges. The Exoneration Project petitioned the court on Ben’s behalf. A month later, Ben was released after a decade in prison. A year later, Clarissa’s own conviction was thrown out.
With Spalding’s help, the Exoneration Project continued to investigate the arrests Watts made and advocate on behalf of his victims. More than 60 men and women have been exonerated. Even more people may be exonerated in the future.
After four long years, Spalding and Echeverria’s whistleblower lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial in May 2016. However, the morning of the trial, the City of Chicago agreed to pay $2 million to settle the claims. As for Watts, he never returned to the police force after his arrest. 15 officers associated with him remain on the force but have supposedly been placed on desk duty.
As a former street cop, I’ve seen my share of corruption and dirty dealings. Some cops will take a free meal or the like but few things come close to this. Watts is the definition of a bad cop, and the Chicago Police Department’s “code of silence” protected him for far too long. The world would be a better place if more people like Spalding were willing to take on fraud in their own workplaces.
One reason why Spalding was able to achieve such a large settlement is probably because the Chicago PD was facing challenges from multiple angles. Clarissa Baker went to the FBI independently at the same time as Spalding and Echeverria. When the case was scheduled to go to trial, dozens of Watts’ arrestees had just been exonerated, and more were on the way. Plus, Watts had already been arrested for stealing from a “dealer.” Police departments are notoriously difficult to crack, and without this much evidence and this many people speaking out, CPD may have felt less pressure to settle the case.
The typical whistleblower cases we investigate involve losses to the government. But as this whistleblower TV show episode points out, whistleblower retaliation claim are important too. If lawyers won’t help protect whistleblowers, fewer whistleblowers will step forward.
If you’re aware of fraud and are considering filing a whistleblower lawsuit, don’t go it alone. Try to find other people and organizations who can offer their own evidence. Since FBI investigations require total silence, it may be easier to find this support before they get involved. However, the FBI can also help identify other witnesses that may be able to help once an investigation has started. Either way, the more ammunition you have against the wrongdoers, the harder it is for them to hide.
Although it’s frustrating that Watts only served time for one incident, 60 people who were wrongfully convicted regained their freedom. That never would have happened if Spalding hadn’t initiated an FBI investigation and whistleblower lawsuit. Even when the ideal outcome isn’t achieved, it’s always worthwhile to do the right thing. Start by reporting fraud online. If you have a viable case, you may be entitled to a significant reward.
We can help you evaluate your case before you file and can help protect you from retaliation as well.
Don’t forget, you can read all the reviews of the first season of Whistleblower by noted whistleblower TV lawyer Brian Mahany.