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Bobby Coleman

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On January 4, 2003, 22-year-old Bobby Coleman was driving near 37th Street and Rhodes Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, when police officers working for Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts pulled him over. Coleman was slapped in the face and put in a police car.

He then was driven to the nearby Ida B. Wells public housing project where Watts and other officers had rounded up several other men.

“Watts said he had some drugs and he was putting it on us,” Coleman later said. “I said they weren’t mine. He didn’t care.”

Coleman was charged with possession of narcotics. He eventually “got tired of waiting” in jail for his case to resolve, and on February 14, 2005, Coleman pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to four years in prison and given credit for the 453 days he spent in Cook County Jail prior to his plea. He was released on parole on June 10, 2005.

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 September 12, 2018, the Cook County State's Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit dismissed Coleman’s conviction. On November 2, 2018, Coleman was granted a certificate of innocence, clearing the way for him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois.

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:2003
Convicted:2005
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:4 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No