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Lugene Claybon

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On July 7, 2007, 28-year-old Lugene Claybon was hanging out with some friends at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when several Chicago police officers led by Sgt. Ronald Watts rolled up in their vehicles.

The officers searched everyone, but nothing illegal was found. Watts then told the officers to let everyone go except for Claybon. Watts began questioning Claybon about a friend named Mister Lucky Pearson.

This was not the first time that Watts asked Claybon about Pearson.

“On several occasions, Watts solicited me for information about a friend of mine, Mister Lucky Pearson,” Claybon later said. “Watts had told me he was looking for Mister and that if I didn’t give [Watts] information about him, he was going to put a case on me. When I protested and told Watts that I didn’t have any information about Mister, Watts told me that ‘the judicial system ain’t shit,’ and that the next time he came around, I better have information for him.”

And so on July 7, 2007, when Watts asked again about Pearson, Claybon repeated that he didn’t have any information. Watts then “turned to one of the other officers and told him to take me to the station,” Claybon said. “I asked what I was being arrested for and Watts said, ‘Oh, you’ll find out.’”

At the station, Claybon was charged with possession of six bags of heroin.

On November 21, 2007, Claybon pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Just days earlier, on November 3, 2007, Watts and his crew had caught up to Pearson, arresting him for possession of cocaine. Pearson pled guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison. He was exonerated in September 2018.

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, following an investigation by the CIU, Claybon’s conviction, along with the convictions of 18 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, was vacated and the charge was dismissed. Claybon 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:2007
Convicted:2007
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:2 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No