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Trinere Johnson

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with no crime
On March 3, 2008, police officers working with Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts approached 18-year-old Trinere Johnson on the fifth floor of the Ida B. Wells public housing development building in Chicago, Illinois where she lived. An officer showed her a bag of drugs and asked her who it belonged it and who she was selling drugs for.

Johnson said she did not know where the drugs came from and that she did not sell drugs. She said the officer told her, “You’re going to jail if you don’t tell me whose [drugs] this is.” When she insisted she did not know anything about the drugs, she was arrested. The officer said he saw her run up the stairs and stash a package of drugs in her pants.

At the same time, Watts and other officers rounded up five other people in the lobby of the building. Ultimately, three of them were released and two others--Angelo Shenault Jr. and Darnell Harris--were also charged with possession of narcotics.

On April 22, 2008, Shenault pled guilty to possession of narcotics. He was sentenced to two years and six months in prison. He was released on parole on December 2, 2008.

On June 4, 2008, Johnson pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of cocaine. She was sentenced to two years on probation.

On July 1, 2008, Harris pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to two and a half 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 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 Johnson and eight others were vacated and dismissed.

On March 4, 2021, Johnson was granted a certificate of innocence to qualify for compensation from the state of Illinois. He later received $30,000. He also filed a federal lawsuit against 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:2008
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No