Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Jimmie Bell

Summary of Watts Scandal
On May 22, 2004, 18-year-old Jimmie Bell was walking down the stairs of a building in the Ida B. Wells public housing project in Chicago, Illinois when Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and two other police officers came running up the stairs.

Bell was familiar with Watts and his fellow officers. Earlier in the year, Watts and officer Alvin Jones had stopped Bell and asked about the drug trade in the housing development. When Bell said he knew nothing, “Al beat me up, hitting me in the face and stomach. After a while, they let me go.”

When Watts and the officers saw Bell on the stairs, they stopped him and searched him. They found nothing illegal. Bell later said that Watts told the officers to keep him there. Watts then went to the apartment of a woman who was well known as a drug user.

When Watts returned, he had a bag of drugs in his hand. He pushed them against Bell’s chest and said, “These are yours.”

Bell was charged with possession of 43 baggies of heroin. The police report said that when the officers approached Bell, he dropped a plastic bag containing the 43 baggies.

On September 22, 2004, Bell pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He 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. In January 2021, Jones was stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave.

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.

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 CIU began investigating the cases and agreed that the convictions should be vacated and dismissed. By the end of 2021, more than 90 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed.

On February 1, 2022, Bell’s conviction, along with convictions of 18 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, was vacated and the case was dismissed following an investigation by the CIU. Bell was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022. In July 2022, the Illinois Court of Claims awarded him $46,189 in state compensation. In September 2022, Bell filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 2/8/2022
Last Updated: 12/11/2022
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No