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Cinque Abbott

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On February 11, 2008, 19-year-old Cinque Abbott was playing video games with friends in the apartment where he lived with his grandmother in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. He answered a knock on the door to find Chicago police officers Kallatt Mohammed and Douglas Jones, who worked under Sgt. Ronald Watts.

They took Abbott into the hallway and asked, “Who got Obama?” Abbott later said he knew the officers were asking for the name of someone selling drugs under the name Obama. “I told them I did not know,” Abbott said.

One of the officers then “pulled a bag out of his pocket that looked like it had drugs in it. The officer told me that if I did not give the police the information they wanted, I would be charged for that bag of drugs,” Abbott said.

When Abbott insisted he did not know, the officers told him to go back inside and get a jacket. After he did, the officers handcuffed him and took him to the police station.

The police report of Abbott’s arrest said the officers came into the building, saw him with drugs in his hand, and chased him up to the third floor. There they confiscated 32 baggies of heroin from him, the report said.

Although the claims were false, Abbott pled guilty on March 25, 2008 in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. “I pleaded guilty to the false charges even though I was innocent because I was offered [two years] probation and I knew I could do several years of prison time if I was found guilty at trial,” Abbott said.

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, Abbott’s conviction, along with the convictions of 18 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, was vacated and the charge was dismissed. Abbott was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022. In july 2022, the Illinois Court of Claims awarded Abbott $85,000, including $2,000 in attorney's fees.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/14/2022
Last Updated: 10/26/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Convicted:2008
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