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Brian Hunt

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On February 23, 2008, 17-year-old Brian Hunt went to visit a friend at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. When he knocked on the door of the fourth floor apartment, Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts opened the door and pulled him inside.

Several other people were in the apartment—handcuffed and lined up against a wall—as were several other police officers. Watts took Hunt into the bathroom, searched him, and ordered him to tell him the location of drugs. When Hunt said he didn’t have any drugs and didn’t know where any drugs were located, he was arrested as well.

At the police station at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue, Hunt was handcuffed to a bench. After a while, Watts came to him, pulled out 50 baggies of heroin and 37 baggies of cocaine, and told Hunt he was being charged with possession of the drugs.

Hunt told his defense lawyer that he had been framed, but the lawyer advised him to plead guilty because the amount of drugs were such that if he went to trial and lost, he would get a significant prison term.

On April 29, 2008, Hunt pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of heroin and cocaine. He was sentenced to two years of probation.

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 24, 2018, the Cook County State's Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit dismissed Hunt’s conviction.

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: 12/5/2018
Last Updated: 2/21/2019
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Convicted:2008
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:Probation
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:17
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No