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Gregory Dobbins

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On May 23, 2008, 29-year-old Gregory Dobbins was standing next to his car parked near the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts ordered Dobbins into the lobby of the building at 575 East Browning Avenue.

Watts as well as other officers, including Kallatt Mohammed and Mohammed’s partner, Lamonica Lewis, herded several others inside as well.

“At some point, after we got inside the building, Watts looked at me and told Mohammed to take me to the side,” Dobbins later said. “Watts then came up to me and pulled what appeared to be drugs out of his front shirt pocket and said something to the effect of ‘You are going back to jail.’ At about the same time, Watts told his team to let everyone else go.”

When Dobbins protested, Watts said that “today was my lucky day,” Dobbins recalled.

This was not the first time Watts had arrested Dobbins. In 2004, Watts and Mohammed arrested him at gunpoint, saying, “You know what time it is.” On that occasion, Watts said that if Dobbins could give him $5,000 and a gun, he could go free. When Dobbins said he didn’t have that kind of money, he was charged with possession of heroin. He pled guilty to that charge and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Faced with Dobbins’s second arrest, his attorney filed a motion to quash his arrest as illegal and to suppress the heroin. At a hearing in July 2009, Mohammed’s partner, Lewis, denied that Dobbins was outside and was ordered into the lobby by police.

Lewis testified that when she came into the lobby, Dobbins was already there. She knew that he was not a resident of the building, and so she warned him to leave or face a trespassing charge. When Dobbins did not leave, Lewis said, she arrested him. And during a search of him after the arrest, Lewis said she found several baggies of heroin.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Carol Howard denied the motion to quash the arrest and to suppress the drugs. On October 7, 2009, Dobbins pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance. “After I lost [the] pre-trial motion to suppress, I pled guilty because I knew I couldn’t beat the case,” Dobbins said. “No one was believing that Watts was doing this.”

Dobbins was sentenced to 30 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.

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 a new trial 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 2018, more than 50 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed.

On February 11, 2019, Dobbins’s 2004 conviction was vacated and dismissed. In May 2019, Dobbins filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago. In June 2019, Dobbins was awarded $70,000 in state compensation.

On April 22, 2022, Dobbins’s 2008 case was dismissed—as were more than 40 other convictions resulting from the Watts corruption scandal. By then more than 200 convictions had been dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/30/2022
Last Updated: 4/30/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Convicted:2009
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:2 years and 6 months
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:29
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No