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Thomas Jefferson

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Thomas_Jefferson%20(1).jpg
On May 31, 2003, 27-year-old Lee Rainey was in the lobby of a building in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and officers under his command entered the building. Rainey fled because he feared that Watts and the officers would falsely charge him with possession of narcotics.

Rainey managed to run two blocks before his asthma forced him to stop, and officer Kallatt Mohammed marched him back to the lobby. There, Watts told Rainey they were going to “front” him a case “to make sure you never run from me again.” Rainey was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine and heroin.

Watts and his officers claimed that Rainey dropped drugs as he ran and that Mohammed found more drugs in his pocket.

On August 19, 2003, Rainey pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to drug possession. He was sentenced to two years of probation.

More than a year later, on October 16, 2004, Rainey was with other men, including 24-year-old Thomas Jefferson, in the lobby of the building when Watts and other officers entered.

The officers handcuffed Rainey, Jefferson, and two others, and forced them to lie facedown on the floor. They were searched and no drugs were found.

Watts then walked up to the second floor apartment of Marcus Jefferson, who apparently unbeknownst to Watts, was the brother of Thomas Jefferson. Marcus regularly acceded to Watts’s demands to pay money and give him drugs in return for not being arrested. Watts demanded and received heroin from Marcus.

Watts walked back downstairs and announced that Rainey and Jefferson would be charged with possession of heroin. The other two men were not charged.

On July 28, 2005, Rainey pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court. He was placed on probation for two years.

On August 18, 2005, Jefferson pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of narcotics. He was sentenced to four years in prison. He was released from prison on January 25, 2008.

In 2012, Watts and Mohammed were caught on tape stealing money from a man they believed was a drug courier, but who was in fact 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 based on the corruption of Watts and his team. “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 Rainey and Jefferson, as well as 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, Rainey and Jefferson filed separate federal civil rights lawsuits seeking compensation from the city of Chicago.

Jefferson was granted a certificate of innocence, which resulted in an award of $97,075 in compensation from the state of Illinois for the time he was incarcerated.

Rainey filed a request for a certificate of innocence, but it was denied because Judge Leroy Martin ruled that individuals sentenced to probation were not eligible for a certificate. Lawyers for Rainey appealed that ruling after the Illinois Appellate Court granted a certificate of innocence to Clarissa Glenn, ruling that probation was not a bar to obtaining a certificate.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/6/2018
Last Updated: 3/30/2019
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Convicted:2005
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:4 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No