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William Crawford

Summary of the Watts scandal
On October 10, 2004, 24-year-old William Crawford was sitting on the front porch waiting for his girlfriend at 555 East 40th Street in the Ida B. Wells public housing development when a police officer approached and asked if Crawford had any drugs.

When Crawford said he did not, the officer ran to the porch and handcuffed him. At about the same time, several officers stopped 27-year-old Jerome Bynum. “I could see the officers hitting and kicking Jerome before putting him in handcuffs,” Crawford later said.

Bynum said he was chatting with friends when he saw “a large group of officers” approaching. Bynum knew them to be part of the crew of Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts. “Because I knew these officers were crooked, I started walking away to the back of the rowhouse,” Bynum later recalled. “As I walked away, an officer grabbed me, slammed me to the ground, and multiple officers kicked me, punched me, stomped me, and hit me with an object.”

Bynum was handcuffed and, along with Crawford, was taken to the police station. There, Crawford was accused of working with Bynum to sell heroin. The police reports said that customers went to Crawford, who accepted their money, and directed them to Bynum who handed over the heroin. Police said they confiscated 15 baggies of heroin and $128 in cash.

On December 1, 2004, Crawford and Bynum pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. Both were sentenced to probation: Bynum got 18 months and Crawford got 24 months.

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, Crawford’s conviction and Bynum’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. Crawford subsequently received a certificate of innocence, and was awarded $109,782 in compensation from the state of Illinois. In October 2022, Bynum and Crawford filed a federal lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/24/2022
Last Updated: 4/30/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No