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Darron Byrd

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On February 17, 2006, 20-year-old Raynard Carter and two friends were walking toward the Ida B. Wells public housing project in Chicago, Illinois, when several police cars pulled up. Carter and his friends were searched, but nothing illegal was found.

The officers, led by Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts then moved them into the lobby and ordered them to their knees. Watts went upstairs and returned holding baggies of drugs. He began asking them for money and when Carter said he had no money, Watts slapped him in the face several times.

Carter was then taken to the police station where he was charged with possession of 22 baggies of crack cocaine. On July 10, 2006, Carter pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to three years in prison and was released on February 16, 2007.

Two months later, on April 11, 2007, Carter and a friend, 28-year-old Darron Byrd, were leaving the housing development when they encountered Watts and other officers in the parking lot where the officers had detained several others.

Watts stopped Carter and Byrd and both were handcuffed. The men, all in handcuffs, were lined up and individually asked to tell police the location of drugs. Officer Alvin Jones struck each person who said they didn’t know or did not answer with a “Slim Jim,” a thin metal strip used to open locked cars.

When Jones got to Byrd and Carter, both protested they had just walked out of the building and nothing to do with any drugs. Watts looked at them and said, “They’re going.”

Both were taken to the police station where they were charged with possession of narcotics. On June 25, 2007, Carter and Byrd both pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. Each was sentenced to a year and six months in prison. Byrd was released on August 27, 2007. Carter was released on June 20, 2008.

In 2012, Watts and a 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.

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 the 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, Carter and Byrd’s convictions were vacated and the charges were dismissed, bringing the total to more than 60 convictions erased in the Watts corruption scandal. They subsequently were granted certificates of innocence. Byrd and Carter filed federal civil rights lawsuits against the city of Chicago in May 2019. That same month, Byrd was awarded $40,000 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/26/2019
Last Updated: 9/10/2019
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2007
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No