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Jamell Sanders

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
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On June 4, 2006, 17-year-old Jamell Sanders was on his way to buy candy from a street vendor at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when a Chicago police officer working for Sgt. Ronald Watts grabbed him.

“I told you we would get you,” the officer declared.

Several other officers, including Kallatt Mohammed, took Sanders to an apartment in the housing complex. There, he saw the officers retrieve some narcotics.

Watts and officer Alvin Jones then told Sanders that they would let him go if he would identify whose drugs they were. When Sanders said he had no idea, Jones punched him and then arrested him on a charge of possession of narcotics.

The officers then took Sanders to the police station at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue. While they were en route, one officer said, “You had a chance to say something. Now you gotta go to jail.”

At the station, the officers charged Sanders with possession 39 baggies of heroin and 13 baggies of cocaine.

On July 17, 2006, Sanders pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of narcotics. He was sentenced to two years of probation.

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 Sanders 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, Sanders filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Chicago. He also sought a certificate of innocence to obtain compensation from the state of Illinois, but his request was denied. His appeal of that ruling was pending in December 2018.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/6/2018
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2006
Convicted:2006
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Probation
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No