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Catrina Bonners

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with no crime
On March 28, 2007, 24-year-old Catrina Bonners was walking down the stairs at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when several Chicago police officers, including Sgt. Ronald Watts, came running up the stairs. Bonners knew the officers had a well-earned reputation for framing people for drug possession, so she immediately ran and hid in the apartment of a friend.

When she was informed that the police had left the premises, she went to the apartment of her grandmother. Unbeknownst to Bonners, a warrant for her arrest had been issued that day claiming that she had dropped packages of drugs when she fled.

Bonners was arrested on May 7, 2007. On July 5, 2007, Bonners pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of heroin. She was sentenced to two years on probation.

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 January 2021, more than 80 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed. On February 19, 2021, following an investigation by the CIU, the convictions of Bonners and eight others were vacated and dismissed.

On March 4, 2021, Bonners was granted a certificate of innocence to qualify for compensation from the state of Illinois and later received $24,000. In 2021, Bonners filed a federal civil rights lawsuit under the name Catrina Bonner seeking compensation from the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/2/2021
Last Updated: 12/6/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No