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Jarvis Perkins

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On September 23, 2007, 23-year-old Jarvis Perkins was hanging out with his girlfriend near the back of one of the apartment buildings in the Ida B. Wells public housing development when multiple police cars pulled up.

Perkins had failed to show in Traffic Court recently and—incorrectly—thought a warrant was out for his arrest. So he ran. He made it to the front of the building, but was tackled from behind by Chicago police officer Kallatt Mohammed, who was part of a team of officers under the command of Sgt. Ronald Watts.

Mohammed handcuffed Perkins and searched him. After failing to find any drugs, Mohammed told other officers, including Watts, that Perkins had thrown drugs onto the roof of the two-story building where Perkins was tackled.

The Chicago Fire Department was summoned and raised a ladder. According to Perkins, Mohammed went up and searched the roof, but found nothing. Watts sent another officer to the roof. “That officer also searched and also yelled down to Watts that he couldn’t find anything,” Perkins later said.

Watts put Perkins in the back of an unmarked police car. Watts asked Perkins why he ran. “I told them that I had missed traffic court and that I thought I had a warrant,” Perkins said. “Watts then asked me where the stuff was. I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about. Mohammed then asked me where the stuff was as well. Again, I told them I didn’t know what they were talking about.”

At that point, Watts told Mohammed to stop talking and walked away. “I then saw him walk back behind the building,” Perkins said. “He was gone for a few minutes. When Watts returned, he came up to the car window and threw something…onto the front passenger seat.”

Perkins leaned forward and saw a bag of drugs. “Mohammed then told me that he was going to tell the judge that it was mine.”

Perkins was charged with possession of 11 baggies of cocaine. On January 28, 2009, Perkins went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. He chose to have the case decided by Judge Rosemary Higgins without a jury.

Officer Douglas Nichols testified that he was driving in an alley and saw Perkins and others dealing drugs. He said that when he got out of his unmarked car, Perkins ran. Nichols said he—not Mohammed—caught up to Perkins and arrested him after seeing him throw a bag of drugs onto the roof. Nichols and Officer Robert Gonzalez testified that when the fire department arrived, they climbed the roof. Both testified that Nichols found the bag of drugs on the roof.

Judge Higgins convicted Perkins of possession of a controlled substance. She sentenced him to 30 months on probation. In 2011, Perkins’s probation was revoked after he was arrested for another crime. He was sentenced to two years in prison for the drug conviction.

A year later, in 2012, Watts and 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, Perkins’s conviction and the convictions of 13 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. Perkins was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/12/2022
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2009
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