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Marie Leaks

Summary of Watts Scandal
On February 28, 2007, 44-year-old Marie Leaks was in an apartment with friends at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when police banged on the door.

When the door was opened, Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and other officers barged in. Then, the officers brought everyone in the apartment individually into a bedroom and asked for information about drugs in the building.

When Leaks said she had no information, Watts, who was holding bags of drugs in his hand, pointed at Leaks. “These are hers,” Watts declared.

“I tried to protest,” Leaks later said. “But Watts and all the officers just ignored me. Next thing I knew, I was in handcuffs and taken to jail.”

“I tried to tell my public defender the truth about what happened,” Leaks said. “I was overwhelmed and confused by the whole thing. The public defender told me that I could go to trial, but explained I would probably lose. He explained that the State offered a deal and that I would have to do about 18 months and I risked a lot more if I didn’t take the deal.”

On April 18, 2007, Leaks pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. She was sentenced to four 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.

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, Leaks’s conviction and the convictions of 13 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. Leaks was granted a certificate of innocence in April 2022 and subsequently was awarded $85,000 in compensation from the state of Illinois. In October 2022, Leaks filed a federal civil rights lawsuiit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/14/2022
Last Updated: 2/17/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:4 years
Age at the date of reported crime:44
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No