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D'Andra Woods

Summary of the Watts scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On June 28, 2004, 25-year-old D’Andra Woods was leaving the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, when several Chicago police cars pulled up as he walked out.

The officers, including Sgt. Ronald Watts, Kallatt Mohammed and Alvin Jones, approached. Mohammed ordered Woods to stop. He handcuffed Woods and searched him. Nothing illegal was found.

Watts and other officers then went into the building, and after about 20 minutes, they returned. “Officer Al Jones had a bag of drugs in his hand,” Woods later recalled. “He threw the drugs down on the hood of a police car. Watts looked at me and took a puff of a cigar.”

By this time, several other people had been stopped and were in handcuffs, including 24-year-old Lolita Newell and 19-year-old Richard Scales.

“I asked Mohammed why I was being held,” Woods said. “He told me I was just caught up in the mix. I thought I was being charged with trespassing because I didn’t live in the building.”

Scales later said he had just purchased food and cigarettes from a woman who sold food, candy and cigarettes from an apartment in the building. Newell was there as well to make a purchase. She stayed behind, chatting with someone while Scales went down the stairs.

“When I got to the first floor, I saw that police officers were detaining several men,” Scales recalled. “An officer whose name I do not know grabbed me, put handcuffs on me, and stood me with the men….A few minutes later I saw Lolita. She told the officers that I had not done anything and told them to let me go. The officers arrested her.”

Newell recalled that when she got to the lobby, she heard Scales “complaining loudly about being detained, and I tried to tell Watts and Richard and I hadn’t done anything. Watts told me to go over to another part of the lobby where other women were being detained. A female officer searched me and didn’t find anything illegal.”

Woods, Newell and Scales, and several others were taken to the police station. There, Woods later said, “I was running my mouth at the officers, telling them that what they were doing was wrong. Al Jones then punched me in the chest and told me to shut…up. I did what he said.”

Woods was charged with possession of heroin as were Newell and Jones. According to the police reports, Woods was directing potential buyers into the lobby from a vantage point outside the building. The officers claimed that another person in the lobby was sold heroin by Newell and Scales. Newell was charged under the name of Lolita Sparks with possession of 16 baggies of heroin. Scales was charged under the name of Kenneth Jones with possession of 16 baggies of heroin.

On August 11, 2004, Woods pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

On January 10, 2005, Newell and Scales each pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. Newell was sentenced to two years in prison. Scales 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 (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, the convictions of Woods, Newell and Scales, 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. Woods, Newell and Scales subsequently received certificates of innocence, paving the way to seek compensation from the state of Illinois.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/18/2022
Last Updated: 10/8/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Convicted:2004
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:3 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:25
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No