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Theodore Wilkins

Summary of Watts Scandal
On three different occasions, Theodore Wilkins was framed for possession of drugs at the Ida B. Wells public housing project in Chicago, Illinois. The police who framed him were led by Sgt. Ronald Watts.

The first time occurred on June 23, 2003, when Wilkins, then 23 years old, was walking with Akira Reynolds. Several officers, including Kallatt Mohammed, stopped them. “We were doing nothing illegal and had no drugs or contraband in our possession,” Wilkins later said. “They searched us and didn’t find anything.”

Even so, Wilkins and Reynolds were detailed while one of the officers left to search areas of the building. “That officer came back holding up some drugs,” Wilkins said. “One of the officers then radioed Watts, and Watts eventually showed up.”

During this time, Mohammed said “something to the effect of ‘you think you gonna go to court on us.’” Wilkins understood what Mohammed was saying. Deon Willis, a friend of Wilkins, had been arrested on a prior occasion. Wilkins had been present at the time and knew that Willis had been framed. “I had been contacted by Willis and asked to testify in his case, and I think Mohammed learned about that,” Wilkins said.

Watts said he remembered Wilkins was a friend of Willis. Reynolds was released, and Wilkins was charged with possession of 58 bags of heroin.

Wilkins was released on bond pending a disposition of the case. On October 25, 2003, while the case was still pending, Wilkins was coming out of the apartment of a friend who lived in the development when he saw Mohammed and Watts and other officers. “They were detaining and searching a whole bunch of people,” Wilkins said. “I tried to quickly turn around, but they spotted me and stopped me.”

“Watts said, ‘Hey, don’t we have a case with you already?’” Wilkins recalled. “Mohammed answered him and said they did….They then put some more drugs on me. Again, I was doing nothing illegal and I had no drugs on me.”

Wilkins was charged with possession of 26 baggies of heroin. On July 1, 2004, he pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance in both cases. Wilkins was sentenced to one year in prison for the June 2003 arrest and two years in prison for the October 2003 arrest.

In the spring of 2007, Wilkins was visiting his nephew at the housing development when Watts stopped him. “I did have marijuana on me at that time,” Wilkins said. “Watts didn’t arrest me, but instead said I owed him one. I knew that meant I had to give him money or tell on someone who was selling drugs. I told him I would look into it and he let me go.”

On May 29, 2007, Wilkins was again visiting his nephew at the housing development and saw some of the Watts crew of officers. “They detained me…Eventually, Watts saw me and said, ‘Don’t you owe me?’” Wilkins said. “Watts then told one of his crew to lock me up.”

On this occasion, Wilkins was charged with possession of 69 baggies of cocaine and one baggie of heroin. On January 23, 2008, Wilkins pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

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.

On February 16, 2022, following an investigation by the CIU, all three of Wilkins’s 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. Wilkins was granted a certificate of innocence in April 2022, and subsequently was awarded $$60,000 in state compensation. He filed a federal lawsuit in October 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/13/2022
Last Updated: 5/19/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:8 years
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No