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Darnell Goodwin

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On July 2, 2003, 23-year-old Darnell Goodwin was in the apartment of his girlfriend’s uncle in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, when someone knocked on the door.

When the door was opened, Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and Officer Alvin Jones walked in. Goodwin knew them both. On prior occasions, Watts had demanded that Goodwin pay him money, but Goodwin had refused.

“He would repeatedly threaten me anytime he would see me and would say he would put something on me if I didn’t pay him or work for him,” Goodwin later said. When Watts and Jones came in on July 2, they saw Goodwin sitting on a couch. Watts immediately said, “You were the one we were looking for.”

Goodwin said Watts handcuffed him and then left the apartment. After about 30 to 40 minutes, Watts returned, “holding a sandwich bag full of little [baggies] that had crack cocaine in them,” Goodwin said. “They put me in the back of the squad car and took me to the station.”

Goodwin was charged with possession of 13 baggies of heroin. On June 2, 2005, Goodwin pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

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. In 2021, Jones was stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave.

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 February 2022, more than 100 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed.

On February 8, 2022, following an investigation by the CIU, Goodwin’s conviction and the convictions of 13 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. Goodwin was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/16/2022
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2003
Convicted:2005
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:2 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No