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John Williams

Summary of Watts Scandal
On April 30, 2007, 37-year-old John Williams was living with his grandmother in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. As Williams and some others were chatting on the second floor, four Chicago police officers working under Sgt. Ronald Watts approached.

“The officers told us to get on the wall,” Williams said later. “Officers put me in handcuffs and searched me. They did not find anything illegal.”

A few minutes later, one of the officers came up to Williams and showed him a bag of drugs. Another officer said, “Bingo, we got them.”

“I said words to the effect of ‘That’s not mine,’” Williams said. “An officer…said, ‘It’s yours now.’”

Williams was charged with possession of 15 bags of heroin that the officers claimed they found in Williams’s shoe.

On June 19, 2007, Williams pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to three months in prison.

“I pleaded guilty to the charges even though I was innocent,” Williams said. “I knew that a jury would not have believed my story over that of the police and that if I was found guilty at trial, I would have received a longer sentence.”

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, a href="/special/exoneration/pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=4863">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, Williams’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. Williams 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: 3/14/2022
Last Updated: 5/19/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:3 months
Age at the date of reported crime:37
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No