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Sherman Johnson

Summary of Watts scandal
On December 6, 2003, 28-year-old Sherman Johnson was playing cards in an apartment in the Ida B. Wells public housing development when Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and officer Kallatt Mohammed pushed their way inside.

“Watts asked everyone where the drugs were,” Johnson later said. “We all told him we were just playing cards and drinking and that no one had any drugs on them.”

Watts claimed he saw someone run into the apartment and he had to search the place. He and Mohammed searched the apartment and everyone who was playing cards. They did not find drugs, but they took cash from Johnson and one other person.

Watts and Mohammed went into another room. Johnson said they “were arguing about the money they had just taken from us and about who they were going to put a case on.”

At about that time, other officers arrived, including officer Alvin Jones. Watts told the officers to search the apartment again. When nothing was found, “Watts then told us that if we wanted to stay out of jail, we needed to get him a gun or some more money,” Johnson said. “Watts had taken all of our money and none of us had access to a gun.”

Johnson said that Jones “told me that I needed to call somebody to get what Watts wanted. I told him I didn’t know anyone I could get a gun from. Al then beat me repeatedly on the face, chest and stomach. I continued to tell him I didn’t know anything and Al continued to hit me.”

Eventually, Watts said to take Johnson to jail. “I was put in a car with Watts, Mohammed and Al. Al was in the back seat with me,” Johnson said. “They drove me slowly by several of the Ida B. Wells buildings where people were hanging out…Watts then told me that ‘Everyone is going [to] think you snitched.’”

At the police station, Watts told Johnson, “I guess you really did know nothing. But it’s too late now.” Johnson was charged with possession of 41 baggies of cocaine.

On September 16, 2004, Johnson pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to three years 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 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, Johnson’s conviction, along with more than 40 other convictions resulting from Watts and his fellow officers, were vacated and dismissed. The dismissals brought the total number of convictions vacated in the corruption scandal to more than 200. Johnson subsequently received a certificate of innocence, and was awarded $60,000 in compensation from the state of Illinois. He also filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/6/2022
Last Updated: 12/6/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2003
Sentence:3 years
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No