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Willie Roberson

Summary of the Watts scandal
On August 31, 2005, 40-year-old Willie Roberson and a friend were walking to the store near the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, when Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and other officers stopped them.

Roberson was familiar with Watts and his fellow officers because they had stopped him in the past and asked Roberson to provide information about drug dealing or the location of drugs. Roberson had said he didn’t know anything, and Watts had said he would “make [him] pay” if he didn’t give information.

On this day, the officers searched Roberson and his friend, but did not find anything illegal. Watts approached and asked what he was doing. Roberson later said he explained they were walking to the store. Watts said, “If you help me, I’ll help you.” Roberson said he had no information for Watts.

According to Roberson, “Watts walked away from me and towards the car he had come from. He went around the corner out of sight. Several minutes went by…Watts then returned.” Watts told Roberson’s friend to leave.

“Then, Watts looked at me and said, ‘Look what I found. These are yours,’” Roberson said. “He was holding a plastic bag of what appears to be drugs. I told him the drugs weren’t mine. He said, ‘They’re yours now,’ unless I had something to tell him. I told him I didn’t have any information. He then told the other officers to arrest me and bring me in.”

Roberson was charged under the name Willie Robinson with possession of heroin. On October 12, 2005, he pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 18 months of probation. However, his probation was later revoked and he was sentenced to one year in prison.

In 2012, Watts and a 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 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 trials 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 the end of 2020, more than 80 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed.

On November 4, 2021, Roberson’s conviction, along with convictions of four others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, was vacated and dismissed following an investigation by the Conviction Integrity Unit.

In January 2022, Roberson was granted a certificate of innocence. In July 2022, the Illinois Court of Claims awarded Roberson $45,000 in state compensation. He also filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago seeking compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/6/2021
Last Updated: 9/8/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Age at the date of reported crime:40
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No