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Oliver Sims

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On October 5, 2002, 17-year-old Oliver Sims visited a friend who lived in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. When he left to go home, he saw a number of men dressed in plain clothes in the hallway.

“They approached and stopped me,” Sims later said. “I thought they were drug dealers from the building.” In fact, they were Chicago police officers in plain clothes, led by Sgt. Ronald Watts.

“Watts asked me if I lived there and I told him I didn’t,” Sims said. “He asked where I was coming from. I told him. Watts then searched me and didn’t find any drugs or anything illegal on me. All of a sudden, he pulled out a bag of drugs and told me they were mine.

“I told the officers that those drugs weren’t mine,” Sims said.

In response, officer Alvin Jones “hit me in the stomach a couple of times and told me not to come around there anymore. I thought they were going to let me go.”

Watts, however, got on the phone and told someone he had “one of your workers.” Watts then described Sims and what Sims was wearing. “He then said something to the effect of, ‘Oh, he isn’t one of yours?’” Sims recalled.

Watts then handcuffed Sims and took him to the police station. There, Watts told Sims that if he could reveal the location of guns, he would “make sure my case wouldn’t stick,” Sims said. When Sims said he did not know where any guns were, Watts “said if I paid him some money, he would let me walk out the back door. I told him I didn’t have any money.”

Watts then charged Sims with possession of 33 baggies of heroin. On March 19, 2004, Sims pled guilty in Cook County Circuit to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 18 months on probation. Subsequently, Sims was found guilty of violating probation and was sentenced to six months in the Cook County Jail.

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. In 2021, Jones was stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave.

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, Sims’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 to nearly 150 the total of convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit. Sims was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/8/2022
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2002
Convicted:2004
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:6 months
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No