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Anthony Wright, Jr.

Summary of the Watts scandal
On July 10, 2004, 19-year-old Anthony Wright Jr. was visiting his father at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts along with officers Alvin Jones, Kallatt Mohammed and Calvin Ridgell knocked on the door. When Wright’s father opened the door, the officers rushed in.

Watts asked Wright about a particular drug dealer in the housing project known as “Big Shorty.” Wright later recalled, “I told Watts I didn’t mess with Big Shorty or…did not work or sell drugs for him.”

Two officers then left the apartment while the apartment was being searched. Nothing illegal was found in the apartment. When the officers who had left returned, they were carrying a bag of drugs. “Watts and his team then planted the drugs on me and claimed they were mine,” Wright said.

On January 11, 2005, Wright went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. He chose to have the case heard by Judge John Fleming instead of a jury. Mohammed and Ridgell both testified they were doing a premises check in the building—looking for squatters and illegal activity—when Jones saw Wright, and Wright ran.

Mohammed said he saw Wright drop a bag containing 40 baggies of heroin. Ridgell said he caught Wright after a short foot chase.

Judge Fleming convicted Wright possession of a controlled substance and sentenced him to five 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 (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, Wright’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. Wright subsequently received a certificate of innocence, and was awarded $80,000 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: 5/11/2022
Last Updated: 12/6/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Sentence:5 years
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No