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Deandre Bell

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
In March 2006, 22-year-old Deandre Bell was walking in the first floor hallway of the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts grabbed him and told Bell he was going to get him. Bell had heard rumors about Watts falsely arresting people and he was afraid. But Watts let him go and Bell returned to his apartment.

On August 27, 2006, Bell was in his bedroom when his sister knocked on his door and told him that a police officer was at the front door and reported that someone had run into the apartment. When Bell walked out of his bedroom, Watts was inside the apartment. Watts grabbed him and stuck his hand in the pocket of Bell’s hoodie and pretended to pull out two baggies of heroin.

“Told you I was going to get you,” Watts said and arrested him for possession of heroin. On November 16, 2006, Bell pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance and was sentenced to two years’ probation.

On May 12, 2007, Bell was walking down the stairs at the building after buying some loose cigarettes when a Chicago police officer appeared below him, pointing a pistol at him.

The officer yelled at Bell to freeze, but he turned and ran up the stairs. The officer fired once, but missed. When Bell ran into the hallway on the second floor, Watts was waiting. Watts punched Bell in the face and knocked him to the floor.

Officer Kallatt Mohammed then picked Bell up and pulled him into the incinerator room where he was joined by Watts and other officers. As one officer stood outside the closed door, Watts asked Bell where there were drugs.

Bell replied by asking why the officer shot at him.

Mohammed punched Bell in the face, told him to shut up, and that no officer had fired a gun at him.

Watts asked Bell several more times where to find drugs. Each time, when Bell said he didn’t know, Mohammed punched him.

Finally, Watts said he had gotten Bell’s “bitch ass” and that he would be going to prison.

Bell was charged with possession of 15 grams of heroin. On August 20, 2007, he pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to probation for two years.

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.

On September 24, 2018, the Cook County State's Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit dismissed Bell’s 2006 and 2007 convictions. Bell was subsequently granted certificates of innocence for both cases, 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:2007
Convicted:2006
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:Probation
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No