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Anthony Gayles

Summary of Watts Scandal
In February 2004, Anthony Gayles spent his 50th birthday in the Cook County Jail because Chicago police officers working under the leadership of Sgt. Ronald Watts framed him for possession of heroin.

Gayles ultimately pled guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Nearly 20 years later, on February 1, 2022, the conviction was vacated and the charge was dismissed. He joined the ranks of nearly 100 men and women who were wrongfully convicted after Watts or members of his crew planted drugs on people because they refused to pay money to remain free.

On February 7, 2004, just days before Gayles’s 50th birthday, a group of Watts’s officers broke down the door to the apartment where Gayles was staying in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois.

The officers searched the apartment but found nothing illegal. Nonetheless, the officers took Gayles to the police station. “At the police station, one of the officers showed me some drugs and told me I was being charged with them,” Gayles later said. “I had never seen those drugs before.”

“I later learned that the officers claimed that they saw me in a hallway holding a bag of drugs and that they recovered the bag of drugs from me,” Gayles said. “These claims are absolutely false.”

Gayles was charged with possession of 14 bags of heroin. On March 24, 2004, Gayles pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

“I told my public defender that I was innocent,” said Gayles. “But the public defender advised me to plead guilty…I also knew that if I was convicted at trial, I could get a longer sentence.”

In 2012, Watts and a 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, Gayles’s conviction, along with the convictions of 18 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, was vacated and the charge was dismissed. Gayles was granted a certificate of innocence in April 2022 and subsequently awarded $40,000 in compensation of which $2,000 was for Flaxman. He also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/16/2022
Last Updated: 2/24/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Age at the date of reported crime:49
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No