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Jerome Fears

Summary of Watts Scandal
On September 30, 2008, 22-year-old Jerome Fears was arrested near the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois and accused of driving his car into Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts.

Fears was charged with aggravated battery after Watts claimed that Fears clipped Watts’s knee and leg as Fears attempted to drive out of a parking lot at the housing development to avoid arrest for dealing narcotics.

Watts was treated and released from a hospital.

At the police station, Fears told officers that his car, a 2008 Dodge Avenger, did not hit Watts at all. Fears said that he was trying to avoid Watts and drove away before Watts reached his car.

Fears told officers that Watts and his partner, Kallatt Mohammed, had been shaking him down for payoffs to allow Fears to sell drugs near the housing development. About two months earlier, Fears stopped making payments. On September 23, 2008, Watts and Mohammed stopped Fears and told him that if an agreement was not reached, things would go badly for Fears. Fears said he paid $450 in cash and agreed to resume making payments. Watts and Mohammed then charged Fears with a misdemeanor count of soliciting unlawful business.

The police report of the interview with Fears said, “When asked why he thought he was going to be arrested, [Fears] said he did not want the officers to ‘put something’ on him because of issues he had with them from previous encounters.”

Asked about the encounters, Fears “claimed he used to pay the officers money so they would allow him to sell drugs in Ida B. Wells housing projects…he said he gave them $300 on several occasions but stopped paying them because business was slow.”

On June 16, 2009, Fears pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to aggravated battery of a police officer. He agreed to plead guilty and accept a two-year sentence because, with time already served, he would be released in two months.

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. By the end of 2021, more than 90 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed.

On April 22, 2022, following an investigation by the CIU, Fears’s conviction, along with the convictions of more than 40 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, were vacated and dismissed. By that time, more than 200 convictions had been dismissed in the corruption scandal.

Fears subsequently received a certificate of innocence, paving the way to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. In September 2022, Fears filed a federal lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Chicago. In May 2023, Fears was awarded $60,000 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/27/2022
Last Updated: 12/12/2023
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Sentence:2 years
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No