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Robert Forney

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On January 22, 2007, Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and officers under his command arrested 44-year-old Robert Forney on charges of possessing and selling drugs at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois.

The officers said they confiscated 51 baggies of heroin after watching him make several sales in a hallway of the complex.

Forney filed a complaint with the Chicago Police Office of Professional Standards, the internal agency that investigated allegations of police misconduct. Forney said Watts had threatened to arrest him on prior occasions unless Forney provided information on who was selling drugs at the complex.

Forney reported that on the day of his arrest, Watts and others came into his mother’s apartment without a warrant. After Forney refused to provide names of people selling drugs or locations where the officers could find drugs, Watts said, “Three strikes and you’re out, bitch,” and arrested Forney.

On September 5, 2007, Forney pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of heroin. He was sentenced to five years in prison and was released on parole on January 16, 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 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.

On February 16, 2018, the Cook County State's Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit dismissed Forney’s conviction. Forney was subsequently granted a certificate of innocence clearing the way for him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. Forney also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Chicago.

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

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/9/2018
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2007
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:5 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:44
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No