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Dexter Willis

Summary of the Watts scandal
On December 11, 2003, 19-year-old Dexter Willis visited his girlfriend, who was living with her aunt in an apartment in the Ida B. Wells public housing development. As he was waiting for an elevator, several police officers came running up the stairs and came into the hallway.

One asked Willis if he had been running. “I told him I had been visiting my girlfriend and I was just leaving,” Willis later said. Two officers searched him. Although they did not find anything illegal, they handcuffed Willis and took him to the lobby where several officers working under Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts were lining people up against the wall.

One of the officers, Kallatt Mohammed, came up to Willis holding a bag of drugs. Mohammed said, “Why did you drop these drugs?” Willis said. “I told him they weren’t mine.”

Another officer then said, “I saw him drop those drugs,” Willis said.

Mohammed asked Willis to reveal where there were drugs or guns, but Willis said he didn’t know where guns or drugs were located.

“Mohammed told me that if I didn’t want to play, they wouldn’t play either and that these drugs were mine,” Willis said.

Willis was charged with possession of 28 baggies of heroin. On May 27, 2004, Willis 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.

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, Willis’s conviction and 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.

In June 2022, Willis was granted a certificate of innocence, clearing the way for him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois.

This was not the first time Willis had been framed by Watts and his crew. In September 2002, Willis had been charged with possession of drugs and a handgun. On January 24, 2003, Willis had pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of drugs and possession of a handgun, and had been sentenced to boot camp.

In October 2022, Willis was exonerated of the conviction resulting from the 2002 arrest. He was granted certificates of innocence for the two convictions and was subsequently awarded a combined $179,000 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: 5/16/2022
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:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No