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Joseph Thompson

Summary of Watts Scandal
On November 6, 2002, 19-year-old Joseph Thompson went to visit a friend at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. He saw a man who he believed was an undercover police officer standing by the elevator.

“I walked up the stairs to the fifth floor, and I knocked on the door to my friend’s apartment,” Thompson later said. “As I was waiting for an answer, a police officer who I now know was Alvin Jones, told me to walk over to him…He put me in handcuffs, searched me, and I heard him saying my name over his radio. Officer Jones did not find anything illegal when he searched me.”

Not long after, other officers, including Sgt. Ronald Watts, came to the fifth floor and took Thompson downstairs to the laundry room.

“While I was in the laundry room, Watts asked me to tell him where drugs were being sold,” Thompson said. When Thompson said he had no information, “Watts told me that if I didn’t give him the information he wanted, I would go to jail.”

And that’s what happened. Thompson was charged with possession of 13 baggies of cocaine. On January 8, 2003, Thompson pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to two years on probation.

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 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, Thompson’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. Thompson was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022. He filed a federal lawsuit in October 2022. In May 2023, Thompson was awarded $45,000 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/2/2022
Last Updated: 12/13/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2002
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No