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Anthony Wright

Summary of Watts Scandal
On January 22, 2007, 42-year-old Anthony Wright was walking back from a store to the apartment where he lived with his mother in the Ida B. Wells public housing development when a Chicago police car pulled up next to him.

An officer who was part of the team of officers working under Sgt. Ronald Watts got out of the car. “The officer asked me who was selling drugs in the area, and I told him I did not know,” Wright later said. “The officer then put me in handcuffs.”

Another officer then came up on foot. After they conferred, they took Wright to the police station. “At the station, one of the officers asked me to give him somebody,” Wright said. “I understood him to mean that he wanted me to give him the name of someone who was selling drugs. I told him that I did not know anybody.”

Wright was charged with possession of five baggies of heroin. The police report said that the drugs were in a green breath mint container that Wright dropped on the street. Wright also was charged with possession of 14 baggies of cocaine that the officers said they found in Wright’s shoe at the police station.

On May 25, 2007, Wright pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to two years in prison. He said he pled guilty even though he was innocent out of fear that he would get a more severe sentence if he were convicted after a trial.

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.

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 subsequently awarded $44,000 in state compensation. He also filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/14/2022
Last Updated: 12/6/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:2 years
Age at the date of reported crime:42
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No