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Ron Owens

Summary of the Watts scandal
On July 1, 2003, 24-year-old Ron Owens left his aunt’s apartment in the Ida B. Wells public housing project in Chicago, Illinois when he was approached by Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts.

“Watts detained me and brought me into the lobby,” Owens later said. “In the lobby there were other men already detained. I specifically recall officers [Kallatt] Mohammed and [Alvin] Jones as being there.” Watts asked Owens where drugs were. Owens said he did not know.

“He told me that he knew I knew where the drugs were and that if I just gave them to him, he would let me go,” Owens said. “Watts then walked away from me and went towards the back of the building, through a door and was gone for a few minutes. When he returned, he had multiple bags of what appeared to be drugs.”

Watts put them on a desk in the lobby and told officers to take Owens to jail.

On January 9, 2004, Owens pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to two and a half years of probation.

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, Owens’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. Owens subsequently received a certificate of innocence, and was awarded $50,000 in compensation from the state of Illinois. He filed a federal lawsuit in September 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/11/2022
Last Updated: 5/19/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2003
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No