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Jermaine Morris

Summary of Watts scandal
On August 31, 2004, 24-year-old Jermaine Morris was in the lobby of a building at 559 East Browning Avenue in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when several Chicago police officers led by Sgt. Ronald Watts stormed in.

“Watts had his gun drawn,” Morris later said. “They ordered us all up against the wall.”

Watts and other officers, including Alvin Jones, searched everyone, but found nothing illegal.

“Watts asked us where the stuff was,” Morris said. “We told him we didn’t have any drugs and we were just hanging out. He then told me if there weren’t any drugs, then we had to pay him.”

“Watts and Al took one of the other guys, a guy named Jay, around the corner,” Morris said. “I could hear them beating him. After a while they came back. Apparently Jay had money on him because Watts let him go. I watched Watts divvy up the money with Al.”

Morris didn’t have any money. He was charged with possession of 50 baggies of heroin. On October 8, 2004, Morris pled guilty in Cook County Circuit to possession of heroin. He was sentenced to one year in prison.

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. 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, Morris’s conviction, along with more than 40 other convictions resulting from Watts and his fellow officers, were vacated and dismissed. This was the third exoneration for Morris. He was separately exonerated in 2020 after being framed in December 2004 and in 2021 for a conviction resulting from drugs planted on him in 2006. The dismissals brought the total number of convictions vacated in the corruption scandal to more than 200. Morris subsequently received a certificate of innocence, paving the way to seek compensation from the state of Illinois.

In 2022, Morris was granted $22,000 in state compensation for his 2005 and 2006 convictions In 2023, he was awarded $85,000 for his 2004 conviction. He also filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/10/2022
Last Updated: 2/4/2024
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Sentence:1 year
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No