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Clarissa Glenn

Other Cook County CIU Cases
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On March 23, 2005, 32-year-old Ben Baker was arrested at the Ida B. Wells public housing complex by a team of Chicago Housing Authority police officers headed by Sgt. Ronald Watts.

Baker was charged with one count of possession of heroin with intent to deliver and three counts of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver. Released on bond, Baker then filed a complaint with the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards asserting that the police planted the drugs.

In December 2005, Baker and his 34-year-old wife, Clarissa Glenn, were stopped by the same police officers as they pulled into the parking lot of the public housing complex. The officers charged both of them after saying they found cocaine in the car.

Baker and Glenn were freed on bond while awaiting trial.

In May 2006, Baker went to trial on the charges arising from his arrest in March 2005. He elected to have Judge Michael Toomin decide the case rather than a jury.

Prior to the trial, Baker’s attorney requested any files on the officers in the case that related to allegations of misconduct. Judge Toomin was given numerous documents to review, but declined to disclose them to the defense because the police department was conducting an ongoing investigation of the officers, including Watts. Among the documents Toomin reviewed was a statement from a drug dealer at the housing project who said he had given a $7,000 bribe and weapons to Watts in return for being allowed to continue to sell drugs, and that another dealer had given Watts a $10,000 bribe to do the same.

The prosecution’s case consisted of the testimony of one police officer and a stipulation that substances submitted to the crime laboratory tested positive for cocaine and heroin. Police officer Douglas Nichols testified that he and his partner, Manuel Leano, under the direction of Watts, went to the housing development to check for narcotics activity. Nichols said he and Leano saw Baker standing in a hallway holding a clear plastic bag containing numerous smaller bags of white powder, about five feet away from two other men.

Nichols said Baker ran down the stairs and they pursued while radioing other officers. Nichols testified that when he reached the lobby, Baker had been stopped by other police officers and he was still holding the bag. Nichols said he searched Baker and found another bag in his pocket containing 68 smaller bags of crack cocaine and $819 in cash. Nichols testified that at the police station, Baker said, “Them blows are mine, but those rocks ain’t.”

Baker testified in his own defense and said he lived in the housing development with his wife and three children and that although he had dealt drugs in the past, he had stopped after being convicted. He was only weeks away from completing his probation when he was arrested, Baker said.

Baker denied making the comment about the drugs while at the police station, denied having any drugs in his possession and said the officers planted the drugs on him because he refused Watts’ demand that he pay a $1,000 bribe to be left alone.

Baker said he had known Watts for three or four years and that in June 2004, a friend told Baker that Watts and his officers were at Baker’s building and had recovered heroin from a mailbox. Baker said the friend told him that Watts was threatening to arrest Baker for the drugs and send him to prison.

Baker testified that not long after that conversation, another friend said that Watts was demanding that Baker pay a $1,000 bribe to ensure Baker was not charged with possession of the drugs. Baker testified that the friend called Watts from a pay telephone and put Baker on the line. Watts said that Baker would get charged with possession but that he would win the case. Baker refused to pay and hung up the phone.

Three weeks later, in July 2004, Watts and three of his officers came to Baker’s apartment and entered with guns drawn. Baker said the officer accused him of selling drugs in the hallway—which he said was not true—and then charged Baker with possession of drugs in the mailbox.

Baker spent four months in custody before the prosecution dismissed the charge following a hearing on a motion to suppress the evidence. Baker testified that one week later, Officer Alvin Jones, one of Watts’s men, told Baker that the only reason Baker’s case had been dismissed was because the officer who testified—Jones’s partner—had given the wrong testimony. Baker said Jones warned him that the next time they gave Baker a case, it would not be dismissed—a warning that Baker understood to mean that the officers planned to put another false case on him.

Baker said that on March 23, 2005, he was walking down the stairs when he came upon two men engaging in a drug sale. At that moment, Officer Nichols appeared with his gun drawn. Baker said one of the other men went down the stairs and he did the same. Baker testified that when he got to the lobby, Nichols’s partner, Leano, handcuffed him and put him in a police car. Moments later, Baker said, Nichols appeared holding two plastic bags which he gave to Leano. Shortly thereafter, Watts and officer Alvin Jones drove up in another police car and following a conversation with Nichols, Jones told him, “I told you we were going to get you.”

In rebuttal, the prosecution called Jones, Watts and Officer Robert Gonzalez, a member of Watts’s unit. Gonzalez testified that he saw Nichols recover drugs from Baker. The officers all denied ever demanding bribes or threatening to put a case on Baker.

The case turned on the credibility of the officers versus the credibility of Baker. Judge Toomin (who had presided over the mailbox case prior to its dismissal) found the officers to be more credible than Baker and on June 9, 2006 convicted Baker of all the charges. The judge did note that if he had found any corroboration for Baker’s testimony, the outcome of the trial might have been different.

At sentencing, Baker’s lawyer argued that the officers were corrupt and that “corrupt police officers facilitate drug dealing because those drug dealers who do pay the police can now rest assured that the…case put on them is not going to happen. And the cure and protection is still out there for them.” Toomin sentenced Baker to prison for 18 years, which was later reduced to 14 years.

In September 2006, Baker and Glenn agreed to plead guilty to the charges resulting from the December 2005 arrest. They agreed to plead guilty on the condition that Glenn would be placed on probation so that she could care for the couple’s children. Baker agreed to a four-year prison term.

On September 18, 2006, at the time they entered their guilty pleas, appearing before Judge Toomin, the judge told them:

“Let me say this to both of you. I know through your lawyer what your position has been with regard to these police officers. I’m keenly aware of that. I know how you feel. I know what your defenses were earlier, Mr. Baker. There has not been (a) sufficient showing that these are renegade police officer(s)—that they are bad police, that they are outlaws.

“If something should happen in the future—where has happened before as you may have read about in the paper in the last few weeks police officers do get charged with doing things that are wrong, breaking the law. If that should happen here in this case, I would have no hesitation to vacate all of the guilty findings, judgments, sentences, including the 14 years that you’re doing now…If something should develop, then I think your lawyer has told you my position and I would vacate these findings and I would toss out these convictions.”

Baker’s appeal of the first conviction was denied in 2008.

In July 2013, following a federal investigation, Watts pled guilty in U.S. District Court to taking money in 2011 from a man he believed was a drug courier. Watts admitted giving the courier a kickback in exchange for allowing Watts to steal the money that Watts believed belonged to drug dealers. In fact, the courier was a confidential FBI informant.

The prosecution said that 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.” Watts was sentenced to 22 months in prison.

Baker, then represented by Joshua Tepfer, attorney at the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago School of Law, filed a motion to vacate his conviction based on the evidence of Watts’s corruption. The motion detailed how at the time of Baker’s trial, Watts was already under investigation by the FBI and the Chicago Police Internal Affairs Division. One FBI report, written in September 2004—several months before Baker was arrested—said, “Watts receives weekly payments from drug dealers. These payments are typically in the amount of $5,000.”

Meanwhile, on January 9, 2015, Glenn was granted a pardon by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and the charges against her were expunged.

Following the conviction of Watts, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit re-investigated Baker’s case.

On January 14, 2016, the prosecution agreed to vacate Baker’s conviction and 14-year sentence in the March 2005 case and dismissed the case. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said in a statement, “As soon as this case was brought to our attention my Conviction Integrity Unit began an immediate review of this case. Based upon our review and the fact that this now convicted officer provided key testimony during the trial of Mr. Baker, this conviction can no longer stand.”

In February 2016, Baker was awarded a certificate of innocence, enabling him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois.

In March 2016, Tepfer filed a petition on behalf of Baker and Jonathan Brayman, of the law firm of Breen & Pugh, filed a petition on behalf of Glenn seeking to vacate their guilty pleas. On March 23, 2016, the charges were vacated and the prosecution dismissed the case. In September 2016, Glenn and Baker filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/28/2016
Last Updated: 2/28/2017
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Convicted:2006
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:Probation
Race:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:34
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No