Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Erica Goree

Summary of the Watts scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
In February 2002, when Erica Goree turned 31, she was a drug addict who purchased her drugs from dealers near the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. She had become familiar with Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts, whose crew of officers made hundreds of arrests in and around the development—many of them false arrests.

From time to time, Watts stopped Goree and asked her for information on the location of drugs. She later said that when she gave information to Watts, he rewarded her with drugs.

However, that year, Goree said, she stopped giving Watts information. On September 30, 2002, when Watts asked Goree for information, she refused to give him any information.

The following day, October 1, 2002, Goree was walking near 39th Street and Pershing Avenue when she saw Cortez Washington, her boyfriend at the time. “I asked Cortez if he had any dope, he said he had one blow [heroin] that he would share with me, and we went inside one of the [Ida B.] Wells buildings to a stairwell,” Goree said.

“Before we could use the dope, about five or six officers came down the stairs,” she said. “I recognized one of them as Watts.”

Although Goree had not touched Cortez’s heroin, the officers handcuffed them both and took them down the stairs. Goree was separated from Cortez, and she was searched. Nothing illegal was found.

“I could hear officers punching and kicking Cortez, and I heard Cortez hollering,” Goree said. “Watts then told me words to the effect of ‘If you don’t tell me where the shit at, you [are] going to get the same thing that he got.’”

She said, “I understood him to mean that the officer would beat me up if I did not give them information...I refused to give Watts any information and he smacked my head against the wall.”

Goree was taken to the police station, where Watts told her, “’You should’ve did what I asked you’…I later learned that the arresting officers claimed that they saw me hand drugs to several people in exchange for money and that the officers saw me holding a bag of drugs. These claims are absolutely false.”

Goree was charged with possession of 12 baggies of heroin. On January 6, 2006, she pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. She was sentenced to four years in prison. Cortez Washington was also charged and was acquitted at a bench trial.

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, Goree’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.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 5/16/2022
Last Updated: 5/16/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2002
Convicted:2006
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:4 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:31
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No