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Joey Fenton

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
In early 2007, 28-year-old Joe Fenton, a resident of the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, was stopped and searched by Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts. When Watts found $500 in Fenton’s pocket, he asked for some of it.

“He told me to give him money for lunch,” Fenton later said. “I gave him $40. He then said…that the next time he saw me, I needed to give him $1,000. I thought he was kidding, but I was also afraid given what I had seen and heard about him. After that, I tried my best to avoid Watts and his team.”

On July 18, 2007, Fenton was moving out of his third-floor apartment and had just about finished up. “All of a sudden, there was a pounding on my door,” Fenton said. “I answered it and Watts, Officer [Alvin] Jones, and several other officers came rushing into my apartment.”

Fenton explained that he was moving out. He had just removed the air conditioning units, which he was moving to his mother’s apartment.

“Watts told the officers to search the apartment and me,” Fenton said. “They didn’t find anything in the apartment and I didn’t have any drugs or anything illegal on me. They took several hundred dollars off of me, however. Then they took me downstairs.”

In the lobby, Fenton and several others were lined up against a wall. “Watts directed several officers to continue searching the building,” Fenton said. “At some point, Officer Jones put a gun in front of me and said something to the effect of ‘I told you whatever I find in this building I’m going to put on you. This is your gun.’”

Fenton and several others were taken to the police station. Watts showed them a bag of drugs and said the police were going to divide them up among the group.

Fenton said he tried to speak to officer Kallatt Mohammed, who at the time was a friend of Fenton’s mother’s boyfriend. “Mohammed said he would talk to Watts for me,” Fenton said.

“A little while later, Mohammed and Watts came back and said they were going to let me go,” Fenton said. “Jones argued with them and said he had already started the paperwork on me. Watts eventually told him he was letting me go and they took me to the back door and let me go.”

But Fenton found out otherwise a few weeks later when he got a card in the mail informing him that he had an upcoming date in Cook County Circuit Court. When Fenton appeared, he discovered that the paperwork had been processed after all—he was charged with possession of 41 baggies of heroin and 51 baggies of cocaine. The police report showed that the officers reported confiscating $698 in alleged drug sale proceeds from Fenton. He was not charged with possession of a firearm.

Fenton stopped going to court because he did not want to go to jail for a crime he did not commit. However, an arrest warrant was issued, and on September 22, 2011, he was arrested.

On November 21, 2011, Fenton 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 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, 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.

– 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:2007
Convicted:2011
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No