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Michael Flagg

Summary of the Watts scandal
On January 19, 2002, 39-year-old Michael Flagg lived with his mother on South Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. As he was going to buy some beer, he stopped to talk to some friends in a park across the street from the Ida B. Wells public housing development. He met a friend, and they decided to go together to buy beer. As they walked across Vincennes Avenue, they saw police cars in the distance.

Flagg and his friend decided to take a shortcut by going through one of the buildings in the housing project. They went in the back door and as they exited the front door, Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts came up behind them.

“Grab those two,” Watts commanded. Officers then handcuffed Flagg and his friend. The officers then took Flagg to the seventh floor of the building. There, two other men, who Flagg only knew as “Red” and “Man,”: were in handcuffs. The officers took all three into apartment 704 where a woman that Flagg knew as “Vicky Ma” lived.

“I heard Watts threatening Vicky Ma that if she did not tell him where she was hiding drugs, she would lose her Section 8 housing and he would call DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services],” Flagg later said.

The officers took Flagg and the two other men out of the apartment. “Then Vicky Ma gave a plastic bag to Watts and said words to the effect of “Is this what you’re looking for?”

Flagg said, “At the station, I heard Watts tell the other officers to divide up the drugs he got from Vicky Ma and put some on me, put some on Red, and put some on Man. I later learned that the officers claimed they saw me at the rear door of 574 East 36th Street holding a clear plastic bag with smaller bags inside of it. This claim is absolutely false.”

Flagg was charged with possession of 20 baggies of heroin. On October 23, 2002, he pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to probation. His probation was later revoked and he was sentenced to one year 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 Alvin 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, Flagg’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. Flagg subsequently received a certificate of innocence, and was awarded $50,000 in compensation from the state of Illinois. He also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/17/2022
Last Updated: 4/30/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2002
Sentence:1 year
Age at the date of reported crime:39
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No