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Javon Bradley

Summary of Watts Scandal
On June 4, 2008, 17-year-old Javon Bradley and his older sister, Sharday, were visiting a friend who lived in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. They had been there before and on one such occasion, Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts had stopped Javon and taken money from him. At that time, Watts had warned Bradley that the next time Watts saw him, Bradley was going to be charged with drug possession.

Bradley and his sister had just walked outside the building when an officer who was part of Watts’s team stopped them. The officer directed them to go into the lobby where other people were being detained.

“Watts searched me,” Bradley later said. “I didn’t have any drugs or anything illegal on me.”

At that point, an officer went upstairs in the building and returned with a bag containing 59 baggies of heroin.

“Watts instructed the officers to arrest me,” Bradley said.

“Watts put me in his car,” Bradley said. “Watts told me, ‘I told you the next time I saw you I was going to lock you up.’”

His sister attempted to intervene and went so far as to stand in front of the police car in an attempt to prevent the officers from taking Bradley away. “Watts swore at me and told me it wasn’t my business,” she later recalled. She relented only after the officers threatened to arrest her as well.

On August 19, 2008, Bradley pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of narcotics. 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.

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 (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, Bradley’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. Bradley was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022, and subsequently was awarded $109.782 in state compensation. He later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/12/2022
Last Updated: 4/29/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No