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Deonta Anderson

Summary of Watts scandal
Deonta Anderson was framed by corrupt police officers twice in the space of seven months at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. He was exonerated on April 22, 2022.

The first time Anderson was arrested was on December 29, 2003. The 19-year-old was stopped by Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and officer Alvin Jones as he and a friend, Raheem Denard, walked to a bus stop.

“Watts jumped out of his car,” Anderson later said. “He approached us and searched us. Neither I or my friend had any drugs or anything illegal on us. He asked me for information about the drug trade at Ida B. Wells. I told him I didn’t know anything.”

Watts then went to the trunk of his car and returned with a bag of drugs. “Look at what I got for you,” Watts said.

Watts “then put the drugs into one of my pockets and then pulled them out again,” Anderson said.

The officers took Anderson and Denard to the police station. “At the station, he again asked me if I had any information to give him that could get me out of my arrest,” Anderson said. “I again told him I didn’t know anything.

Anderson was charged with possession of 23 baggies of cocaine. Denard was released without being charged.

While Anderson was in custody, his mother, Regina Anderson, encountered Watts. Anderson recalled that she “cursed him for arresting me. Watts told her that because she had cursed out, that when I got out, he was going to put another case on me.”

In January 2004, Alvin Jones testified at a preliminary hearing that he saw Anderson with drugs in his hand and confiscated the drugs when he made the arrest. The judge found probable cause to continue the prosecution.

On March 22, 2004, Anderson pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 18 months on probation.

On July 22, 2004, Anderson was leaving the apartment of a relative when he ran into Watts and other officers, including Jones. “An officer grabbed me and searched me,” Anderson said. “I didn’t have any drugs on me. Watts told me that my mother had been ‘talking shit’ to him. He said he was going to lock me up because of it, but that he would let me go if I gave him the information he wanted. I told him I didn’t know anything.”

Watts instructed an officer to hold Anderson, and then went to a different floor. “After approximately a half hour, Watts came back downstairs,” Anderson said. “He had what appeared to be a bag [of] drugs in his hand…He asked me again if I had any information for him and told me if I didn’t he was going to put the drugs on me.”

When Anderson insisted he did not have any information, he was charged with possession of 15 baggies of heroin and 18 baggies of cocaine.

At a preliminary hearing in August 2004, Jones again testified that he recovered the drugs from Anderson as he was trying to flee from the officers. The judge found probable cause to continue the prosecution.

On October 6, 2004, Anderson pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

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 April 22, 2022, both of Anderson’s convictions, 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. Anderson subsequently received certificates of innocence, and was awarded $161,863 in compensation from the state of Illinois. He later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/2/2022
Last Updated: 4/30/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No