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Hasaan Potts

Other Cook County, Illinois CIU exonerations with no crime
On March 19, 2003, 23-year-old Hasaan Potts was parking his car near the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, when several Chicago police officers in plainclothes approached. One of the officers, Sgt. Ronald Watts, pulled Potts out of his car, handcuffed, him and put him in the backseat of his police car.

Watts got behind the wheel and was joined in the front passenger seat by officer Kallat Mohammed. Potts asked what was going on and Watts said Potts knew what was happening on the street corner. When Potts said he didn’t know what Watts was talking about, Watts pulled out a bag of drugs, held it up, and said “this” is what he was talking about.

Potts said the drugs weren’t his. Potts later recalled, “He told me that I knew how this went…I could either bond out of the back seat of his car or I could bond out from jail.”

Potts said, “I was scared about what was going to happen to me, so I asked him what he wanted…He said four or five thousand dollars. I didn’t have that type of money. He took me to the station. I was charged with possessing heroin.”

Potts’s girlfriend, Aisha Walker, later got a call from a police officer who said he had Potts’s car and that she could get it for $300. She paid the money to a man in plainclothes who dropped off the car at her home.

On May 6, 2003, Potts pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

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, 2020, Potts’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, Potts filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. Separately, Potts was awarded a certificate of innocence from the State of Illinois, and received $40,000 in compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/13/2020
Last Updated: 10/12/2021
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2003
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No