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Jason Brown

Summary of the Watts scandal
On July 17, 2007, 20-year-old Jason Brown left his apartment in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, to go to work as a security guard for the production crew filming “The Dark Knight.”

As he was about to leave the lobby, Chicago police officers working under the supervision of Sgt. Ronald Watts asked him where the drugs were. “I truthfully told the officers that I did not know where any drugs were and that I was going to work,” Brown later said.

Brown and another man were searched, and when nothing illegal was found, some of the officers left. “About 15 minutes later, I heard an officer…say over the…radio words to the effect of ‘Bring that [obscenity] up here,’” Brown later said.

The officers took Brown to the sixth floor, although Brown lived on the third floor. He was taken to an apartment where officers searched and later put several drug items on a table. Brown was charged with possessing 33 baggies of marijuana, 21 baggies of crack cocaine, and 13 baggies of heroin.

On June 17, 2008, Brown pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to three 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 Alvin 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, Brown’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. Brown subsequently received a certificate of innocence, paving the way to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. In 2022, Brown filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Chicago. In July 2023, Brown was awarded $8,000 in state compensation, of which $2,000 was for attorney's fees.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/24/2022
Last Updated: 12/12/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:3 years
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No