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Warren Brakes

Summary of Watts Scandal
On September 15, 2007, Chicago police officers working under Sgt. Ronald Watts arrested about a dozen men who were in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois.

At the police station, Watts told everyone that officers had found three bundles of drugs at the housing project. He said, “Someone’s got to take these bundles.”

When no one responded, Watts told 41-year-old Warren Brakes he was going to be charged because Brakes had an outstanding warrant for a parole violation. About 20 minutes later, one of Watts’s crew, officer Kallatt Mohammed, took Brakes into the bathroom and asked Brakes to give him information about drug sales at the housing development.

“I told him I did not know anything,” Brakes later said. “Mohammed told me words to the effect of ‘If you can’t give me something, I can’t help you.’ Mohammed then brought me back to the group.”

About five minutes later, Watts took Brakes into the bathroom. He asked for information. Brakes repeated that he did not know anything.

Brakes was charged with possession of 78 baggies of heroin.

On February 14, 2008, Brakes pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

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, Brakes’s conviction, along with the convictions of 18 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, was vacated and the charge was dismissed. Brakes was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/15/2022
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:6 years
Age at the date of reported crime:41
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No