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David Holmes

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with no crime
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In the early part of 2007, 25-year-old David Holmes was at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts approached him. Holmes later said that Watts, who led an undercover narcotics unit, had demanded that Holmes give him money or he would be arrested.

Holmes said Watts showed him “a large bag of drugs” and “told me that they were mine and that if I didn’t start cooperating, he was going to put me in jail. He told me that he was going to give me a pass this time, but [the] next time, if I didn’t pay him, he wasn’t going to be so nice,” Holmes said.

Months later, on May 24, 2007, Holmes was sitting in the back seat of a friend’s truck in the parking lot at the public housing development. Watts walked up, opened the door, and pulled him out.

Watts and other officers, including Alvin Jones, patted him down. Although they found nothing illegal, Holmes was handcuffed and driven to a police station.

“I was handcuffed to a bench,” Holmes said. “Watts then pulled drugs out and put them on the table in front of me. It was then that I realized what was happening. I started yelling that Watts was framing me. The officers just ignored me.”

Holmes said, “I asked to talk to a lieutenant…One finally approached me and when I told him Watts was framing me, he told me, ‘That’s what they all say and…I should take it up with the judge.’”

Holmes said that Watts “told me I was going away for at least eight years because of the amount of drugs he was putting on me. I specifically remember him saying that my kids would be in college by the time I got out. I pleaded with him. He just ignored me.”

Holmes was charged with possession, manufacture, and delivery of crack cocaine. The report of Holmes’s arrest said that he was stopped on the sixth floor of one of the buildings in the housing development and was carrying 149 baggies of crack cocaine.

On October 18, 2007, Holmes pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to four years in prison.

In 2012, Watts and 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 (CIU) 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.

In December 2016, Tepfer and attorney Joel Flaxman filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of Lionel White Sr., another defendant who claimed he had been 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,” the motion said.

The CIU agreed that White’s conviction should be vacated and dismissed the charge.

In November 2017, following a re-investigation of numerous other cases involving Watts, the CIU dismissed 17 convictions involving 15 more defendants, including the conviction of Lionel White Jr., the son of Lionel White Sr.

By the fall of 2020, about 75 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed. On December 15, 2020, following an investigation by the CIU, the convictions of Holmes and five others were vacated and dismissed.

Holmes was granted a certificate of innocence in February 2021 qualifying him for compensation from the state of Illinois.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/19/2021
Last Updated: 2/5/2021
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2007
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:4 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:25
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No