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Harvey Blair

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On July 10, 2004, 35-year-old Harvey Blair was standing on the street outside the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when several Chicago police officers, let by Sgt. Ronald Watts arrived simultaneously. They ordered several men, including Blair, to get on their knees and face a wall.

The officers began checking identification to determine whether any had outstanding arrest warrants and searching them for drugs. Blair was the last person in the line. After Watts searched him and found no drugs, Watts asked officer Kallatt Mohammed to search Blair again.

When Mohammed found no drugs, Watts slapped Blair in the face, pulled a plastic bag from his own pocket and shoved it into Blair’s face. “These are yours,” he said.

Blair was charged with possession of 10 baggies of heroin. The police report said that when police arrived, Blair ran into the building and was arrested on the third floor.

Blair’s defense attorney filed a motion seeking to suppress the drugs and to quash Blair’s arrest. However, after a different officer on the scene, Kenneth Young, testified that Blair was chased into the building and dropped the drugs, the motion was denied.

On September 12, 2005, Blair pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to four years in prison. He was released on December 30, 2005, after already having spent more than a year in jail before his plea.

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 November 6, 2018, the Cook County State's Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit dismissed Blair’s conviction. Blair 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:2004
Convicted:2005
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:4 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:35
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No