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Chauncey Ali

Other Cook County, Illinois CIU exonerations with no crime
On December 4, 2006, 37-year-old Chauncey Ali was hanging out with several friends at the Ida B. Wells public housing project in Chicago, Illinois, when several police officers came into the building and pulled everyone aside and searched them.

Ali knew the men were in the unit of officers commanded by Sgt. Ronald Watts. On several prior occasions, Watts or his men had stopped him and confiscated his cash. When the officers demanded that he bring them illegal guns and drugs, Ali said he didn’t know of any. Watts had told him that if he saw him again, Ali would be arrested.

On this day, Ali said, he and several other men were handcuffed and taken to a police station, where they were handcuffed to a bench. After several hours, Watts returned with several packages of drugs. Watts split up the packages among the men and charged them all with possession of cocaine.

On January 17, 2007, Ali pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to a year in prison and was released on June 27, 2007.

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 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, 2020, Ali’s conviction, along with convictions of 11 other people framed by Watts and his fellow officers, was vacated and dismissed following an investigation by the Conviction Integrity Unit. The dismissals brought the total of dismissed cases to nearly 80.

In May 2020, Ali filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. He also obtained a certificate of innocence and was awarded $25,000 in compensation from the state of Illinois.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/13/2020
Last Updated: 2/17/2021
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:1 year
Age at the date of reported crime:37
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No