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Sherman Lewis

Summary of Watts Scandal
On May 7, 2005, 23-year-old Sherman Lewis was visiting his girlfriend at her apartment on South Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago, Illinois when her brother, Johnny Lee, came by.

Lewis and Lee did not get along. Previously, they had gotten into a fight and Lewis had been charged with battery. After that, they did not speak. Lewis was aware that Lee worked as an informant for Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts, providing information on drug dealing at the Ida B. Wells public housing project.

When Lee arrived, Lewis left the apartment and went downstairs to a store. When he returned to the apartment and looked out the front window, he saw Lee holding open the first-floor door leading to the apartment as Sgt. Watts and several other officers entered the building.

Seconds later, there came a loud pounding on the door. When the door was opened, the officers rushed in. “They grabbed me and handcuffed me,” Lewis later said. “They took me out into the hallway. Watts told me that I knew what he was there for and told me, ‘Give it to me and I’m gone. But if I got to look for it, you’re gonna piss me off.’”

When Lewis insisted he did not have any drugs on him or in the apartment, Watts brought Lewis’s girlfriend into the hall. Watts “told her that if she didn’t let him search the apartment, he was going to take her kid away and make sure she lost her public housing,” Lewis said. “She reluctantly agreed. He then searched the apartment.”

Soon after, Watts emerged with $1,400 in cash from Lewis’s girlfriend’s income tax refund. “She pleaded with him not to take it, but he told her it was drug money,” Lewis said. “He then arrested me.”

At the police station, Lewis was handcuffed to a wall. While he waited, he saw Lee arrive and speak privately with Watts. Watts came out and told Lewis, “Today isn’t your day.” Lewis was charged with possession of a controlled substance.

On June 15, 2005, Lewis, fearful that he would receive a lengthy prison term if he went to trial and lost, pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 18 months 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, Lewis’s conviction and the convictions of 13 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. Lewis was granted a certificate of innocence in April 2022 and subsequently was awarded $35,000 in state compensation. He filed a federal lawsuit in September 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/14/2022
Last Updated: 5/19/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No