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Eson Claybron

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
Eson Claybron was framed on two occasions in Chicago, Illinois for drug crimes he did not commit. On February 1, 2022, both convictions were vacated, and the charges were dismissed in Cook County Circuit Court.

On February 14, 2006, Claybron, then 19, was visiting a friend, Terrance Scott, who lived in an apartment in the Ida B. Wells public housing development. They were hanging out in the lobby when Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his crew of officers swept in.

“They detained us. They handcuffed us,” Claybron later said. “Watts took all the money I had off me.”

Claybron said Watts then led him around a corner. “He asked me if I had any more money to give him. I told him that I didn’t,” Claybron said. Watts then said that he knew where some drugs were located and asked Claybron to implicate Scott.

“I told him neither of us was doing anything illegal,” Claybron said.

Watts then went upstairs while the other officers kept watch on Claybron and Scott. “After a while, he came down with several bags of drugs,” Claybron said. “He told me that he was putting the drugs on me. He told me, ‘That’s what you get when you don’t listen to Watts.’”

On March 23, 2006, Claybron pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of 26 bags of heroin. He was sentenced to two years on probation.

On September 28, 2007, Claybron had just left his cousin’s apartment in the housing development. Several police officers rushed up on him. A female officer, whom Claybron knew as “Coco,” grabbed his arm and attempted to handcuff him. “I pulled away from her and headed toward Cottage Grove [Avenue],” Claybron said. “I told her I wasn’t doing anything illegal and didn’t have any drugs or anything illegal on me.”

Kallatt Mohammed, one of Watts’s officers, grabbed Claybron and returned him in handcuffs to the building lobby. “Watts then told some of the officers to hold me while he searched the building,” Claybron said. “After approximately 20 minutes, Watts returned. He was holding drugs in his hand and he showed them to me and said, ‘These are yours.’”

Claybron said, “I tried to tell him that I was outside the building minding my own business. He told me that I shouldn’t have tried to get away from Coco.”

Claybron was charged with possession of 61 baggies of heroin. On November 27, 2007, he 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 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, following an investigation by the CIU, Claybron’s convictions, along with the convictions of 18 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, were vacated and the charges were dismissed. Claybron was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/14/2022
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2006
Convicted:2006
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:Probation
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No