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Christopher Farris

Other Cook County, Illinois CIU exonerations with no crime
On July 4, 2004, 21-year-old Christopher Farris was going to meet friends at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, to go to a Fourth of July party. However, when he arrived, Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and members of his unit stopped Farris and put him in handcuffs.

Although nothing illegal was found, Watts told Farris that he was going to jail. Farris told Watts that his uncle was a Chicago police officer. Watts let Farris go, but arrested one of his friends, 24-year-old Dorian Walls.

The next day, Farris went to a Dunkin Donuts restaurant to meet his uncle and explain what had happened. When Farris approached the restaurant, a police officer who worked with Watts approached and told Farris that Watts wanted to meet with him.

The officer walked Farris to 559 East Browning Avenue in the Ida B. Wells development and into the lobby. Several men were being detained there. As Farris walked in, Watts approached and told him that he was in “Watts country.” Watts said he didn’t care if Farris’s uncle was a police officer and that he was going to jail.

Farris was charged with possession of 98 baggies of crack cocaine. On November 24, 2004, Farris pled guilty and was sentenced to probation. In 2005, he was found to have violated the probation and was sentenced to four years in prison.

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, Farris’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, Farris filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. He subsequently was granted a certificate of innocence and $80,000 in compensation from the state of Illinois.

Walls had pled guilty in August 2005 to possession of cocaine and had been sentenced to three years in prison. Walls was exonerated in April 2022.

– 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:2004
Sentence:4 years
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No