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Craig Colvin

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On May 17, 2004, 36-year-old Craig Colvin was standing with a group of people in the lobby at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when a group of Chicago police officers led by Sgt. Ronald Watts rushed in.

Many of the people fled. Colvin, however, did not, even though he knew Watts was known to falsely arrest people on drug charges if they did not provide information on where drugs were located or hand over money.

Watts searched Colvin and found no drugs. During the search, Colvin noticed a plastic bag containing drugs partially sticking out of Watts’s vest. He assumed Watts had confiscated the drugs from someone else in the lobby.

Colvin was handcuffed and taken to the police station at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue. He assumed he was going to be charged with trespassing since he did not live in the building where he was arrested.

When he was informed he was being charged with possession of narcotics, Colvin said the drugs weren’t his. His claim was ignored.

On July 30, 2004, Colvin pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to one year and six months in prison. He was released on September 4, 2006.

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 November 2, 2018, the Cook County State's Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit dismissed Colvin’s conviction. Colvin was subsequently granted a certificate of innocence to allow him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois.

Colvin filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago in February 2019.

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:2004
Convicted:2004
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:36
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No