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Herbert Anderson

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On May 15, 2004, Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and other officers banged on the door of 44-year-old Herbert Anderson, who lived in an apartment in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. Anderson was in bed with his girlfriend and they were both nude. Anderson opened the door and saw Watts and other officers using a bolt cutter to cut off the lock on a metal grate on the outside of the door.

The officers “pushed their way into my apartment,” Anderson later said. “Once inside, they told me to sit down in a chair. I asked them if I could [get] dressed and they told me no.”

The officer searched the apartment. Anderson, who sold candy, soda and cigarettes out of the apartment, told them he had nothing illegal.

“Watts asked me where the drugs were,” Anderson said. “I repeated that I didn’t have any drugs. Watts said he would go get the dogs. I told him to go ahead and bring the dogs because I didn’t have anything illegal in my apartment.”

After nothing was found, Watts ordered the officers to search a second time. “At some point, one of the officers who was behind me said that he found some drugs,” Anderson said. “The officer approached me and showed me and Watts a very large bag of drugs. Watts asked me what the bag of drugs was. I told him I didn’t know what they were…I still didn’t believe what was happening.”

Anderson was charged with possession of 72 baggies of cocaine. The officers also confiscated $1,540 which Anderson said was money he earned from his business selling items from the apartment.

On August 2, 2004, Anderson pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He said he told his lawyer that the drugs were not his. The attorney “recommended that I plead out to probation to avoid prison or jail time,” Anderson said. “I took his advice.” Anderson was sentenced to one year on probation.

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 (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, following an investigation by the CIU, Anderson’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.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/28/2022
Last Updated: 4/28/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Convicted:2004
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:Probation
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:44
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No