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Leonard Gipson

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
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On January 4, 2003, Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and Officer Alvin Jones pulled over 21-year-old Leonard Gipson and charged him with possession of narcotics in Chicago, Illinois.

Gipson filed a complaint with the Chicago Police Office of Professional Standards, the agency that investigates complaints of police misconduct. Gipson claimed that Watts and officers working for him had on previous occasions demanded that he give them drugs or money in return for not being arrested. Gipson said that on the day he was arrested, Watts took drugs out of his own pocket and said, “These are yours.”

The complaint went nowhere. On May 8, 2003, Gipson, who had been freed on bond after the January arrest, was stopped again by Watts and officer Kallatt Mohammed. Watts said, “Let me see if you can bond off of this” and charged Gipson with possession of 18 packets containing 28.6 grams of heroin.

Gipson was unable to make bond after this second arrest. His attorney, Dennis Cooley, filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the January arrest. At a hearing in January 2004, Gipson said he was sitting in his car at the Ida B. Wells public housing development, waiting to pick up his girlfriend. Watts “come out of the hallway, walk up to the car I was in and tell me that them bags is mine.”

Nicole Parker, Gipson’s girlfriend, as well as Roscoe Bryson—a janitor at the building—both testified that they saw and heard Watts.

Mohammed and two other officers testified that they saw and heard Gipson sell drugs.

Cooley argued that the officers had fabricated their testimony. “The officer wasn’t prepared to testify honestly about what it was that occurred so he just picked, apparently, what he thought was the closest location he could possibly get to try to convince some (judge) in the Circuit Court of Cook County that he saw what he saw and was able to hear what he heard.”

The judge found the officers were credible and denied the motion.

On August 24, 2004, Gipson pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to the drug charges in the January and May 2003 arrests. He was sentenced to 482 days in boot camp. He was released on February 25, 2005.

Two and a half years later, on August 28, 2007, Gipson was leaving the apartment of Nicole Parker, who by then was pregnant with his child, when Watts and members of his team were in the lobby.

Watts asked Gipson, “Do you have something for me?”

Gipson said, “No,” and left the building. As he walked to his car, one of the officers called him back into the lobby. There, several officers surrounded him. Watts pulled a bag of drugs out of his pocket and said, “These are your drugs, hardass.” Watts then handcuffed Gipson and charged him with selling drugs.

On November 15, 2007, Gipson pled guilty to two counts of drug possession. He was sentenced to two years in prison on each count to be served concurrently.

Gipson was released from prison on June 10, 2009.

In 2012, Watts and fellow officer Kallatt Mohammed were caught on tape stealing money from a man they believed was a drug courier, but who in fact was secretly working as a confidential FBI informant. In 2013, Watts and Mohammed pled guilty in U.S. District Court to taking money from the informant. Mohammed was sentenced to 18 months in prison and Watts was sentenced to 22 months in prison.

Federal prosecutors said Watts “used his position as a sergeant with the Chicago Police Department to shield his own criminal activity from law enforcement scrutiny. He recruited another CPD officer into his crimes, stealing drug money and extorting protections from the drug dealers who terrorized the community that he (Watts) had sworn to protect.”

In 2006, Ben Baker was convicted twice—once alone and a second time with his wife, Clarissa Glenn, on charges of narcotics possession based on false testimony from Watts. In 2015, Joshua Tepfer, an attorney at the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago School of Law, filed a petition to vacate Baker’s first conviction, citing the corruption of Watts and his unit. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit agreed in January 2016 that Baker’s first conviction should be vacated, and the petition was granted. Later in 2016, a petition filed on behalf of Baker and Glenn also was granted.

In December 2016, Tepfer and attorney Joel Flaxman filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of Lionel White, Sr., another defendant who claimed he had been falsely convicted. “The full known scope of the corrupt, more-than-decade-long criminal enterprise of Sergeant Watts…shows that Sergeant Watts led a tactical team of Chicago police officers that engaged in systematic extortion, bribery, and other related crimes…from as far back as the late 1990s through 2012,” the motion said.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit agreed that White’s conviction should be vacated and dismissed the charge.

In November 2017, following a re-investigation of numerous other cases involving Watts, the Cook County State's Attorney's conviction integrity unit dismissed 17 convictions involving 15 more defendants, including Gipson and Lionel White Jr., the son of Lionel White, Sr.

By 2018, more than 50 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed.

In 2018, Gipson filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Chicago. He also was granted a certificate of innocence for all three convictions, which entitled him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/28/2018
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2007
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:3 years and four months
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:26
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No