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Crystal Allen

Summary of Watts scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On July 18, 2007, 22-year-old Crystal Allen was standing outside a building in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, when she was approached by Chicago police officers Kallatt Mohammed and Alvin Jones, who were working under the supervision of Sgt. Ronald Watts.

Jones told Allen to go into the building lobby. There, the officers grabbed several more people and lined them against a wall. Mohammed went down the line and asked each person, “Who wants to work?”

Allen later said, “Most people said ‘yes,’ but I said, ‘No.’ I didn’t know what Mohammed was doing and I thought he was asking who was selling drugs.” Those who said yes were released. Those who said no were arrested.

Allen was charged with possession of 45 baggies of heroin.

This was the second time that Allen had been arrested by Mohammed.

About three months earlier, on April 17, 2007, Allen had been visiting a friend’s apartment at the housing development. She was in the bathroom when she heard pounding on the front door.

As Allen emerged from the bathroom, her friend, Damicka Henderson, opened the door, and Watts and Mohammed—pushed their way in.

Watts asked Allen “who was working.”

“I told him that I didn’t know; that we were just hanging out,” Allen later said. She said she had been shopping for clothes. Watts searched her and did not find anything illegal.

“Watts told me to stop playing and tell him who was working,” Allen said. “I told him to look in my shopping bag to see the receipts for the clothes I just bought to prove I was telling the truth. He told me to put my hands behind my back and that I was under arrest.”

Allen was charged with possession of 17 baggies of cocaine. On September 7, 2007, she pled guilty to possession of narcotics in both cases. She was sentenced to two years on probation on each case to be served concurrently.

“I was pregnant and the state offered a plea deal that I couldn’t refuse,” she said later. “I took the deal, even though I was innocent because I was afraid I would be sentenced to a lengthy jail term and was worried about my little daughter and my unborn baby.”

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. In January 2021, Jones was stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave.

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 (CIU) 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 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 February 1, 2022, Allen’s conviction for the April 2007 arrest, along with convictions of 18 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, were vacated and dismissed following an investigation by the Conviction Integrity Unit. Allen was awarded a certificate of innocence for that case in April 2022.

On April 22, 2022, Allen’s July 2007 conviction, along with the convictions in more than 40 other cases, were vacated and dismissed. By that time, more than 200 convictions had been dismissed in the corruption scandal. Allen subsequently received a certificate of innocence, paving the way to seek compensation from the state of Illinois.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/27/2022
Last Updated: 10/7/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2007
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:Probation
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No