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Tyronne Fenton

Summary of Watts Scandal
On January 28, 2006, 32-year-old Tyronne Fenton and some friends were hanging in the lobby of a building in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. They had just come from the funeral of a friend, Wilbert “Big Shorty” Moore.

As they chatted, Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and members of his team of undercover drug unit officers swarmed into the lobby and put everyone against the wall. Everyone was searched, and nothing illegal was found.

Everyone was let go except for Fenton. Alvin Jones, one of the officers, said, “Welcome to the new world. I am about to stick it to you,” Fenton later said.

“Watts then pulled me aside and asked me where the drugs were,” Fenton said. “I told him I didn’t have any drugs and I didn’t know where any drugs were. Watts told me if I gave him drugs he would let me go. I told him I didn’t have any drugs.”

Fenton was arrested and taken to the police station. “After about 30 minutes, Jones came out of a room with a big zip-lock bag and set it down on the table,” Fenton said. “I asked what it was, but no one answered. I assumed that the bag contained drugs.”

Fenton said he looked at officer Kallatt Mohammed, who was one of Watts’s officers and said the drugs were not his. “Mohammed just looked at me and said there was nothing he could do.”

Fenton was charged with possession of 26 baggies of heroin.

On December 19, 2007, Fenton pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to two years in prison and given credit for 286 days spent in the Cook County Jail.

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 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 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, Fenton’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. Fenton received a certificate of innocence, and was awarded $40,000 in compensation from the state of Illinois. In 2022, Fenton filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/30/2022
Last Updated: 12/6/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:2 years
Age at the date of reported crime:32
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No