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Deon Willis

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
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On September 20, 2002, Chicago police officer Kallatt Mohammed stopped 27-year-old Deon Willis as Willis bought junk food from a woman known as the “Candy Lady” in the Ida B. Wells public housing development. Mohammed said someone wanted to see Willis in the lobby.

There, Willis was confronted by Mohammed’s supervisor, Sgt. Ronald Watts. Watts asked Willis to call his brother, saying that Willis’s brother owed Watts $5,000. Willis said he would not call his brother and that he didn’t have that kind of money. “You’re around a multi-million (dollar) enterprise and you don’t have that kind of money?” Watts asked. “Well, I’ve got something for you.”

Willis was then handcuffed and charged with possession of 121 baggies of heroin. Willis’s brother later told him that he had agreed to pay $5,000 to Watts to avoid arrest.

On September 9, 2003, Willis pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of narcotics. He was sentenced to probation for two years and six months.

On August 7, 2008, Watts, Mohammed, and other officers suddenly arrived in multiple vehicles in front of the housing development where Willis and a group of people were having a barbecue. Willis and several other men were ordered into the lobby and to toss their drugs into a garbage can.

One of the men said they were just having a barbecue and no one was selling drugs. Watts then walked down the line and, one by one, ordered the men to leave until only Willis and 25-year-old Martez Wise were left. Watts ordered Officer Alvin Jones to handcuff Wise and then turned to Willis.

“So, your brother wants to hide from me?” Watts asked.

Willis said he didn’t have any information about his brother. Watts asked Willis to call his brother. When Willis refused, Watts said that Willis was going to suffer for his brother. Willis and Wise were taken in handcuffs to the police station at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue.

Willis said he didn’t know what he was being charged with until a processing officer showed him paperwork indicating a charge of possession of 21 baggies of cocaine and 30 baggies of marijuana. Willis said he told the officer he was being framed. The officer lowered his voice and told him to file a complaint with the Chicago police Office of Professional Standards, which investigates police misconduct. “Go to OPS,” the officer said. “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but go to OPS.”

Willis was released on bond and went to the OPS office, but the line was so long that he didn’t file a complaint. He said he later confronted Watts and threatened to file a complaint. Watts threatened to retaliate if he did so, and Willis never went back to OPS.

On November 24, 2008, Willis pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 2 years in prison. He was released on parole on February 4, 2010.

Unlike Willis’s attorney, Wise’s defense attorney filed a motion challenging his arrest. On December 1, 2008, following a pretrial hearing, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Arthur Hill Jr. found that Wise’s arrest was not justified and excluded the narcotics from evidence. The prosecution then dismissed the case against Wise.

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 2, 2018, the Cook County State's Attorney's conviction integrity unit dismissed Willis’s convictions. Willis subsequently was granted a certificate of innocence, enabling him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois.

Willis 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: 12/3/2018
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:2 Years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:33
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No