Woman loses civil case accusing police of framing her
By KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter August 9, 2013 8:04PM
Plaintiff Sondra Cartwright. (Defendant is Sgt. Ronald Watts)
Updated: September 11, 2013 6:10AM
An audacious bid by a self-confessed former crack user to win damages from a crooked Chicago cop she says framed her failed Friday when a federal jury rejected her claims.
Acting as her own attorney, Sondra Cartwright, 50, previously successfully defended herself against criminal drug charges arising from a 2007 police raid lead by disgraced Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts, who recently resigned after pleading guilty to felony theft of government funds.
But Cartwright couldn’t repeat the trick in federal court this week, when — again acting as her own lawyer — she tried to turn the tables on Watts, his fellow officers Alvin Jones and Douglas Nichols and the City of Chicago with a $4 million civil lawsuit alleging they railroaded her by planting crack in her apartment.
Jurors deliberated for just one hour before throwing out her claims about the November 2007 police raid on the since demolished high-rise at the Ida B. Wells public housing complex in Bronzeville.
“I lost my home, I lost my neighborhood — I loved the people there,” a tearful Cartwright told jurors during closing arguments at the end of a three-day trial, calling Watts a “dirty cop.”
“The defendants need to know that they can’t do what they did and get away with it,” she said.
Cartwright spent 18 months in jail awaiting her criminal trial and lost her Chicago Housing Authority home before she convinced a Cook County jury she was not guilty of stashing crack in her second-floor apartment. Two public defenders tried to convince her to take a plea deal, she said, but she fired them and successfully represented herself at the criminal trial — a highly unusual accomplishment for an untrained amateur.
Watts was for years a notorious cop in and around the Wells housing development. Finally nabbed last year in an FBI sting stealing what he thought was $5,000 in drug money from a courier, the 50-year-old pleaded guilty last month and faces up to 10 years behind bars when he is sentenced.
In what U.S. Judge Edmund Chang hinted was a mistake, Cartwright demanded the civil trial go ahead this week, before Watts’s sentencing hearing, meaning she wasn’t allowed to tell jurors about the details behind Watts’s guilty plea.
It was one of a series of legal missteps she made, often appearing overwhelmed by the daunting task of taking on seasoned attorneys with only her brother’s help.
Representing the city, lawyer Brian Gainer successfully argued that Cartwright had “failed to take responsibility for her own actions.”
An unrepentant Cartwright — who says she’s been clean for six years — acknowledged she “didn’t know the rules” in court but said she didn’t regret bringing the case or turning down what she said was a six-figure settlement the city previously offered her.
“It wasn’t about the money,” she said after the verdict was announced.
The verdict doesn’t yet bring an end to the fallout from Watts’ long police career. In a pending civil lawsuit, two fellow officers allege their careers suffered after they warned police brass about Watts’ misdeeds a decade ago.