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Kim Wilbourn

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
On September 6, 2006, 27-year-old Kim Wilbourn traveled nearly 50 miles from his home in Algonquin, Illinois to visit family members who lived in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. He was walking through the lobby of a building toward the elevator when Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and another officer grabbed him, handcuffed him, and searched him.

After nothing illegal was found, Watts asked Wilbourn who was selling drugs in the building. Wilbourn said he didn’t live in the building and had no idea who might be selling drugs.

Watts then punched Wilbourn repeatedly in the head and continued to demand information. When Wilbourn said he had no information, Watts asked him about his brother, Vondell Wilbourn.

Watts had arrested Vondell on two prior occasions for possessing narcotics—charges that Vondell claimed were false although he had pled guilty both times and was sentenced to a total of five years and six months in prison.

Watts asked what his brother was doing and also asked about several other people. When Kim insisted he had no information, Watts said that if he didn’t provide any information or produce any guns or drugs, he was going to be arrested.

Again, Kim said he didn’t know anything. Watts then pulled out a bag containing 25 baggies of heroin and told Kim the drugs were his.

Watts arrested Kim and took him to the police station. There, Kim told everyone he could that he was being framed, but his pleas were ignored.

On October 17, 2006, Kim pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to two years in prison. He was released on March 5, 2007.

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.

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, Kim Wilbourn’s conviction was vacated and dismissed, bringing the total to more than 60 convictions erased in the Watts corruption scandal. He was subsequently granted a certificate of innocence, clearing the way for him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. In May 2016, Wilbourn filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago. In June 2019, Wilbourn was awarded $50,000 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/26/2019
Last Updated: 9/10/2019
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:2 years
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No