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Tyree Smith

Summary of the Watts scandal
On July 3, 2007, the day after Tyree Smith turned 17, he and his 33-year-old uncle, Stephen Shelton were visiting the mother of Smith’s baby son in an apartment in the Ida B. Wells public housing project, when there came a knock on the door.

When Smith, holding his infant son, answered the door, several Chicago police officers, including Alvin Jones and Kallatt Mohammed, rushed in. Smith recognized the officers as members of a crew of officers supervised by Sgt. Ronald Watts.

“The officers ran right by and started harassing other people who were in the [apartment],” Smith later said. “I watched them slap and beat up on all these guys, including my uncle…None of the officers said anything to me. I sat back down on the couch with my baby son.”

The officers eventually walked up to Smith and told him to put down the baby. “They then put me in cuffs and brought me downstairs. There were a bunch of people detained downstairs and they put me with them. They did the same to my uncle Stephen.”

While some of the officers stood guard, other officers left. When they came back, the officers were carrying a plastic bag. “They then took us to the station,” Smith said.

Shelton recalled, “Eventually, one of the officers came in and told me and Tyree that the drugs were ours. They indicated that a bunch of the other guys were just getting trespassing charges. I told them I didn’t live in the building and the drugs were not ours. I told them we were just visiting my nephew’s baby. They didn’t care.”

Smith was charged with possession of 46 baggies of heroin. On September 17, 2007, Smith pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to probation for two years.

Shelton was charged with possession of 38 baggies of heroin. On October 19, 2007, he pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to one year in boot camp.

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. He resigned in 2022.

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 Smith and Shelton, 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. Smith subsequently received a certificate of innocence, and was awarded $40,000 in compensation from the state of Illinois. He filed a federal lawsuit in October 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/24/2022
Last Updated: 5/19/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No