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Rasaan Shannon

Summary of Watts Scandal
On July 3, 2004, 17-year-old Rasaan Shannon was going to meet his brother at 540 East 36th Street in the Ida B. Wells public housing development when he encountered Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts.

Shannon had encountered Watts before. On one occasion, Watts had arrested Akira Reynolds, Shannon’s cousin. “Watts told me that if I got him a gun, he would let Akira go,” Shannon later said. “So I did exactly that.”

On this occasion, however, Watts “immediately grabbed me and started punching me in the stomach,” Shannon said. Watts demanded to know where drugs were being sold. “I told him I didn’t know and that I was just there to meet my brother,” Shannon said.

“Watts then punched me in the jaw,” Shannon said. “He handcuffed me and brought me to a group of like 15 other guys he had already detained.” When Shannon’s brother, Rashad Shannon, approached and argued that Rasaan had nothing to do with the drug trade in the building, Watts arrested him as well.

The entire group was taken to the police station and handcuffed to a bench. “Watts came into the room and dropped a number of bundles of what appeared to be drugs on the table,” Shannon said. “Watts then asked us who had information for him.”

Shannon said a number of the group went individually with Watts into another room. Those people didn’t come back. “I assumed he had let them go,” Shannon said.

When Shannon saw others, including his brother, being released, he tried to talk to Watts “to tell him something so he’d let me go,” Shannon said. “Watts told me I didn’t know anything. He was right.”

Shannon was charged with possession of 82 baggies of heroin. On October 17, 2005, he pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to boot camp for four months.

In 2012, Watts and a 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.

On February 16, 2022, following an investigation by the CIU, Shannon’s conviction, along with the convictions of 14 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, was vacated and the charge was dismissed. These dismissals raised the total of convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit to nearly 150. Shannon was granted a certificate of innocence in April 2022 and was awarded $85,000 in state compensation. He filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago in 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/13/2022
Last Updated: 3/10/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Sentence:4 months
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No