Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Joseph Wright

Summary of Watts Scandal
On February 5, 2005, 23-year-old Joseph Wright was at home in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when there came a knock on the door. He looked out the peep hole and saw Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and several other officers, including Alvin Jones.

Wright opened the door and the officers came in. “Watts pulled some drugs out of his pocket,” Wright later said. “He said the drugs were mine, but that if I told him [where] the rest of the drugs were, he’d let me go.”

“I told him the drugs weren’t mine–that I saw him pull them out of his pocket,” Wright said. “He had the officers search my house. They didn’t find anything in the house and I didn’t have any drugs or anything illegal on me. He told the officers to cuff me.”

In the police car, Watts offered to let Wright “bond out from the backseat” by paying him “a couple of thousand dollars,” Wright said. “I told him I didn’t have that kind of money. He said it would cost me that much to fight this case and he would let me go right then and there if I paid him. I didn’t have the money to pay him.”

At the police station, Wright was handcuffed to a bench. “Watts approached me and told me if I gave him some information about the drug trade, he could help me out,” Wright recalled. “I specifically remember him saying ‘If you help me, I will help you.’ He told me if I gave him somebody, I could walk out the door. I told him I didn’t know anything.”

Wright was charged with possession of 31 baggies of heroin. On April 13, 2005, he pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to probation for two years. “Even though I was innocent, I took the deal because I was afraid of receiving a…prison sentence,” Wright said.

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 placed on administrative leave and his police powers were suspended.

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, Wright’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. Wright was granted a certificate of innocence in April 2022 and awarded $80,000 in state compensation. He filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago in 2022.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 3/14/2022
Last Updated: 3/10/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No