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Kimberly Watkins

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On August 30, 2005, 29-year-old Kimberly Watkins was sitting with a friend in a van near the Ida B. Wells public housing project in Chicago, Illinois. The day was hot, and the doors to the van were open when Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and members of his team pulled up.

Watkins knew who Watts was. On a previous occasion, he had stopped her and taken her car keys. He had driven off in her car and later returned, bragging that he had used it to surprise people who were dealing drugs.

On this August afternoon, officers pulled Watkins out of the van and asked where the drugs were. “I didn’t have any drugs or anything illegal on me and I told them that,” Watkins said later.

“Then one of the officers…grabbed me by the neck and said that I was ‘swallowing something,’” Watkins recalled. “I wasn’t swallowing anything. I was telling the officers that I didn’t have anything on me when this happened. That officer then began choking me. My eyes started tearing up and I thought he was going to kill me.”

The officer finally let go and arrested Watkins on a charge of possessing three bags of heroin. Her friend was let go.

On September 21, 2005, Officer Alvin Jones testified at Watkins’s preliminary hearing in Cook County Circuit Court that he got a report of a woman selling drugs from the van. He said that when he arrived, he saw Watkins drop the heroin in the van.

On October 12, 2005, Watkins pled guilty in Cook County Circuit to possession of a controlled substance. She was sentenced to one year in prison.

On February 5, 2007, Watkins was in a friend’s apartment in the housing development when someone knocked on the door. When her friend answered, “Watts and his crew came barging in,” Watkins said. “Watts asked [where] all the drugs were at. I didn’t have any drugs or anything illegal on me and I told these officers that.”

When a search of the apartment didn’t turn up anything, Watts reached into his pocket and pulled out a bag of drugs. “This is yours,” he told Watkins.

Watkins was charged with possession of 39 baggies of crack cocaine. On April 27, 2007, Watkins pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

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. 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, both of Watkins’s (by this time, her last name was Green) convictions, along with the convictions of 14 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, were vacated and the charges were dismissed. These dismissals raised the total of convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit to nearly 150. Watkins was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/1/2022
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2007
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No