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Larry Lomax

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
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On January 4, 2003, 45-year-old Larry Lomax rode the train from his home in Zion, Illinois to the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois so he could pay a visit to his brother who was suffering from cancer.

As he approached the building where his brother lived, someone grabbed him by the hood of his jacket and yanked him over a railing. Several men then began beating and kicking him. He yelled for them to stop, but he was told to “shut the hell up.” Several of his teeth were knocked out during the beating.

When he was subdued, the men took his cash. He said the money was intended for his brother who was battling cancer, and one man responded that it was a “donation” to them. Another man took his return train ticket and tore it up, saying he wouldn’t be needing it.

Lomax was then dragged to the lobby of another building in the complex. Each time he tried to get up, he was knocked down again and told to shut up.

Ultimately, when he got to the lobby, he saw several other men on their hands and knees, and realized that the men who attacked him were Chicago police officers in plainclothes.

Lomax heard some of the officers telling the men that the officers had warned them that they would get them. One by one, the men were taken around a corner. When they returned, their faces were beaten and bloody. Lomax feared for his life.

Then the police wagons arrived. Lomax and the others were taken to the police station at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue. At the station, Lomax heard the other men talking about “Sgt. Watts.”

After some time, Sgt. Ronald Watts took Lomax into a separate room, showed him a bag of drugs, and said that if Lomax would say that he saw one of the other men with the drugs, he would let Lomax go free.

When Lomax said he never saw anyone with drugs, Watts punched him. He continued telling Lomax that he needed to implicate others. Each time that Lomax refused, Watts punched him again. “I don’t know any of these men,” Lomax said.

Finally, Watts said that if Lomax would not implicate anyone, he would be charged. Lomax still insisted he didn’t know any of the men and hadn’t seen any drugs. He was then charged with possession of 53 baggies of heroin.

On November 6, 2003, Lomax pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of heroin. He was sentenced to probation for two years.

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 September 24, 2018, the Cook County State's Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit dismissed Lomax’s conviction. Lomax was subsequently granted a certificate of innocence, clearing the way for him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois.

Lomax 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: 12/9/2018
Last Updated: 2/21/2019
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2003
Convicted:2003
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:Probation
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:45
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No