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Tracy Cooper

Summary of the Watts scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On October 1, 2002, 31-year-old Tracy Cooper was leaving the Ida B. Wells public housing development to catch a bus to go to work when he stopped to smoke a cigarette and chat with a friend named Willboe.

Cooper’s back was to the door of the building. “I am smoking a cigarette and I see Willboe’s eyes buck,” Cooper later recalled. “His eyes get big. He said, ‘Watch out.’”

Cooper said he turned around and a man tackled him. “I didn’t know he was a police officer at first,” Cooper said. “He put me on the ground.” Another officer then came up and punched him in the eye, Cooper said.

Cooper was arrested and charged under the name of Marcus Washington with possession of 90 baggies of heroin.

On February 10, 2004, Cooper went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. He chose to have the case decided by Judge Thomas Sumner without a jury. Chicago Police officer Alvin Jones, who was part of a crew of officers working under Sgt. Ronald Watts, testified that he saw Cooper drop a bag containing the 90 baggies of heroin.

Cooper testified and denied he had any drugs that day. He said he was among a number of men that police rounded up and charged with possession of drugs.

Asked how many officers were on the scene, Cooper said, “After my vision came back to normal, I would say between five to eight officers…then other cars started pulling up later on.”

He said, “It seemed as if they didn’t explain—just arrested anyone who they could get their hands on in the parking lot.”

At the conclusion of the testimony that day, Judge Sumner convicted Cooper of possession of heroin. He sentenced Cooper to six years 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, Officer 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, Cooper’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. Cooper subsequently received a certificate of innocence, paving the way to seek compensation from the state of Illinois.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/16/2022
Last Updated: 10/8/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2002
Convicted:2004
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:6 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No