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Lakiya Gresham

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On June 16, 2004, 26-year-old Lakiya Gresham returned to her apartment in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois after attending the kindergarten graduation ceremony for her son. She was in her bathroom when she heard loud noises.

When she came out of the bathroom, she found Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and members of his unit standing in the apartment. They had kicked in the door.

Gresham was familiar with Watts and his crew because they were harassing (and later would falsely arrest) her children’s father, Bryant Patrick. “I asked them what they were doing and Watts said they were going to search my apartment,” Gresham later said. “Watts said he had just heard someone running up into my apartment and that he had heard the door shut. I told him I had just run in to go to the bathroom.”

Gresham said she was handcuffed and searched. “I didn’t have any drugs or anything illegal on me or in my apartment. Watts then said he would be right back.”

Watts and the officers left and returned 15 minutes later. “After he entered the apartment, he pulled a bag of what appeared to be drugs from his pocket,” Gresham said. “I told Watts that the drugs weren’t mine. I told him he didn’t get the drugs from my apartment,” Gresham said. “He told me to tell it to the judge.”

Gresham was charged with possession of 117 baggies of heroin. She hired an attorney and told him she was being framed. “My attorney recommended that I take a plea deal because I couldn’t beat these officers,” Gresham said.

On February 2, 2005, Gresham pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. She was sentenced to probation for two years.

Patrick was framed twice on false drug charges by Watts and his crew. He pled guilty in 2005 and was sentenced to probation. He pled guilty in 2007 and was sentenced to six years in prison. He was subsequently exonerated of both convictions.

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 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, Gresham’s conviction and the convictions of 13 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. Gresham 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
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Convicted:2005
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:Probation
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:26
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No