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Russ Lipscomb

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On May 12, 2005, 40-year-old Russ Lipscomb was riding his bicycle near the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when a Chicago police car drove up onto the sidewalk to stop him. Officers searched him, but found nothing illegal.

They then asked him what he was doing “up on the second floor,” Lipscomb later said. “I told them I wasn’t on any second floor; that I was instead out riding my bike. They put handcuffs on me and took my shoes off.”

Not long after, Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts drove up. “You got him,” he said. Watts then left and walked around the corner. When he returned about five minutes later, he had a bundle of drugs in a clear bag in his hand. “He then said the drugs were mine and told the officers to arrest me,” Lipscomb said. “I told the officers that the drugs were not mine, but they did not respond.”

At the police station, Lipscomb told an officer that Watts was framing him. “He told me that I wasn’t the only person that he had done this to and that they were going to get Watts soon,” Lipscomb said.

Lipscomb was charged with possession of 128 baggies of heroin. On September 14, 2005, Lipscomb pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

Seven years later, 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, Lipscomb’s conviction and the convictions of 13 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. Lipscomb was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/14/2022
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Convicted:2005
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:5 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:40
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No