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Stefon Harrison

Other Cook County, Illinois CIU exonerations with no crime
On September 27, 2006, 25-year-old Stefon Harrison was returning to his apartment in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, when Chicago police officer Alvin Jones stopped him in the lobby. Harrison and Jones began exchanging words when Jones’s supervisor, Sgt. Ronald Watts came into the lobby.

Watts asked Jones why he stopped Harrison, and Jones said it was because Harrison was being “a smart ass.” Watts then pulled a handful of baggies of drugs out of his pocket and asked Jones if he needed them. Jones said he did and was going to arrest Harrison for possessing them.

Harrison became enraged and protested that the drugs weren’t his. Watts pushed him against the wall, handcuffed him, and took him to a police station. There, Watts told Harrison that if he could get more drugs or some guns for Watts, he would be released.

When Harrison said he could not, he was charged with manufacturing, delivery, and possession of cocaine.

Harrison posted bond and was released. On December 4, 2006, while still awaiting his court date, Harrison was stopped by police again. Harrison was waiting for an elevator in the building where he lived when he was shoved from behind. He turned around to find officer Kallat Mohammed, who worked with Watts, pointing a gun at his face. Jones stood by his side.

They ordered Harrison to get on the floor and searched him, but found nothing illegal. At about that time, Watts entered the building. He told Harrison that if he had the money to post bond and be released, he should have money to give to the police. Watts asked if he could produce some guns or drugs, but Harrison could not. So he was arrested and taken to a police station along with several other men who had been rounded up.

At the station, Watts brought out some drugs and divided them up so that all the men were charged. Harrison was charged with manufacturing, delivery, and possession of heroin.

On January 25, 2007, Harrison pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of cocaine and heroin. The cases were combined and he was sentenced to four years in prison to be followed by one year of boot camp.

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, Harrison’s convictions, along with convictions of 11 other people framed by Watts and his fellow officers, were 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, Harrison filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. Harrison also was granted a certificate of innocence and awarded $60,000 in compensation from the state of Illinois.

– 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:2006
Sentence:5 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