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Sydney Harvey

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
On October 1, 2006, 47-year-old Sydney Harvey was standing in the lobby of a building in the Ida B. Wells public housing complex in Chicago, Illinois, when Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and other officers swarmed the area.

Watts searched Harvey and found nothing illegal. Watts said that he had warned Harvey in the past to have information about the location of drugs and guns or names of dealers. Harvey said he didn’t know anything.

Watts then pulled a bag of drugs out of his pocket and threatened to arrest Harvey for possessing them unless Harvey provided some information.

When Harvey again said he knew nothing, Watts arrested him on a charge of possessing 100 baggies of heroin.

On October 31, 2006, Officer Kallatt Mohammed testified at a preliminary hearing that when he came into the lobby, Harvey fled. Mohammed said he chased Harvey up to the fourth floor. He said he confiscated a bag containing the 100 baggies of heroin during a search of Harvey.

On January 31, 2007, Harvey, after being told by his lawyer to take a plea deal because “I couldn’t beat those officers,” pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court. He was sentenced to four years and six months in prison. He was released on July 2, 2008.

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 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.

Beginning in December 2016, Tepfer and attorney Joel Flaxman filed motions for new trial on behalf of dozens of men and women who claimed they were 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,” their motions said.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit began investigating the cases and agreed that convictions should be vacated and dismissed.

By 2018, more than 50 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed.

On February 11, 2019, Harvey’s convictions were vacated and dismissed, bringing the total to more than 60 convictions erased in the Watts corruption scandal. He subsequently was granted a certificate of innocence, clearing the way to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. In May 2016, Harvey filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago. In June 2019, Harvey was awarded $90,000 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/22/2019
Last Updated: 9/10/2019
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:4 years and 6 months
Age at the date of reported crime:47
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No