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Gregory Dobbins

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
On March 14, 2004, 25-year-old Gregory Dobbins was standing outside the Ida B. Wells public housing project in Chicago, Illinois when several Chicago police cars converged.

Sgt. Ronald Watts and officer Kallatt Mohammed emerged from one car, drew their pistols, and told Dobbins to freeze. Watts then told Dobbins, “You know what time it is” and ordered him into the lobby of the building.

Inside, Watts searched Dobbins. When he found nothing illegal, Watts pulled a bag of drugs from his pocket and said Dobbins was dealing them. When Dobbins said the drugs weren’t his, Watts said he would let Dobbins go free if Dobbins came up with $5,000 and a gun.

Dobbin said he didn’t have that kind of money and didn’t know anyone who did or who had a gun. Watts handcuffed Dobbins and took him to the police station.

There, Watts offered Dobbins another chance to go free if he could come up with the money before the arrest report was completed. Dobbins said he didn’t have any money. He was then charged with possession of 30 baggies of heroin.

On June 17, 2004, Dobbins pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to three years in prison. The sentence was to be served after he completed a six-year sentence imposed in another drug possession case that did not involve Watts or members of his team. Ultimately, Dobbins was convicted of possession of contraband while in prison and received an additional sentence of two years and six months. Ultimately, he was released in June 2010.

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 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, Dobbins’s conviction was vacated and dismissed, bringing the total to more than 60 convictions erased in the Watts corruption scandal. Dobbins was granted a certificate of innoence, clearing the way to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. In May 2019, Dobbins filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago. In June 2019, Dobbins was awarded $70,000 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:2004
Sentence:3 years
Age at the date of reported crime:25
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No