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Andre McNairy

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
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In August 2008, Chicago police officers working under the command of Sgt. Ronald Watts arrested 44-year-old Andre McNairy and took him to a police station at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue on the south side of Chicago, Illinois.

After officers confiscated drugs and money from McNairy, Watts told him that he was going to “take the money and drugs” and not charge McNairy. However, he had to “redeem” himself, Watts said, by setting someone else up to be arrested for drug possession.

Watts wrote his cell phone number on a piece of paper and told McNairy to call him when he was ready to “redeem” himself. McNairy, however, discarded the paper.

On September 15, 2008, officers working for Watts stopped McNairy and several others as they walked on South Langley Avenue near 40th Street. McNairy was arrested and charged with possession of 50 baggies of heroin.

In October 2009, McNairy went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court and chose to have his case decided by Judge Charles Burns without a jury.

Officer Douglas Nichols testified that he was wearing plainclothes and in an unmarked vehicle when he drove up to near where McNairy was walking. Nichols said he saw McNairy drop 25 baggies of heroin on the ground. When he searched McNairy, he said, he found 25 more baggies as well as nearly $300 in cash.

Mohammed Blandon, who was with McNairy at the time, testified that several officers, including Watts, pulled up. He said that McNairy was arrested, but he never saw any drugs dropped or confiscated from him.

On October 23, 2009, after a trial that lasted only a few hours, Judge Burns convicted McNairy of possession of more than 15 grams of heroin. He sentenced McNairy to nine years in prison.

In 2012, while McNairy was still in prison, he saw a television news report that Watts and fellow officer Kallatt 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. McNairy wrote letters to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office reporting that on the day he was arrested in September 2008, Watts was present.

McNairy reported that officers told Watts that McNairy was not carrying drugs, but had cash. Watts, McNairy said, took the money and asked, “Why didn’t you call me?” McNairy said he replied, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

McNairy said Watts left the interrogation room and returned later, saying, “Bingo, bango.” He then held up some drugs. McNairy said that another officer asked Watts where he got the drugs, and Watts replied that he had found them in an abandoned building.

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 McNairy 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, McNairy filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Chicago. He also was granted a certificate of innocence, which resulted in an award of $97,075 in compensation from the state of Illinois.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/28/2018
Last Updated: 3/30/2019
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Convicted:2009
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:9 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:44
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No