Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Rickey Henderson

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
Rickey Henderson was falsely convicted four times from 2002 to 2006 for possession of narcotics in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois.

Henderson was among dozens of men and women who were arrested by Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts or officers in his unit, and who claimed that police planted drugs on them because they refused to pay bribes or provide names of people with drugs in return for avoiding arrest.

On June 25, 2002, Henderson, then 30 years old, was arrested and accused of possessing 12 baggies of crack cocaine. He pled guilty on September 11, 2002 in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance and was sentenced to three years in prison.

He was released on parole on June 23, 2003, and was arrested a second time by Watts and his crew just two months later on August 27, 2003. He was accused of possessing 23 baggies of heroin. Henderson pled guilty on December 8, 2003, and was sentenced to one year and six months in prison. He was released on parole on May 6, 2004.

Ten months later, on March 12, 2005, Henderson was arrested again and charged with possession of 122 baggies of crack cocaine and 43 baggies of heroin. He pled guilty on July 28, 2005, and was sentenced to three years and six months in prison.

Henderson was released on parole on June 9, 2006. Less than two months later, on July 22, 2006, he was arrested a fourth time. Police claimed he had 57 baggies of heroin. Henderson pled guilty on August 25, 2006, and was sentenced to four years in prison. He was released on January 18, 2008.

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 badge and 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 protection payments 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 Law School, 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 all four of Henderson’s convictions. Henderson was subsequently granted four certificates of innocence, clearing the way for him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. He was later awarded $80,000.

Henderson 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

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 12/10/2018
Last Updated: 4/28/2020
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:12 years
Age at the date of reported crime:34
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No