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Brian Gaines

Summary of the Watts scandal
On May 18, 2004, 17-year-old Brian Gaines and 16-year-old Isiah Jones visited a friend at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. While they were there, police banged on the door. When the door was opened, several officers pushed inside, including Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts.

“The officers immediately handcuffed us and put us against the wall,” Gaines later said. “An officer I only now know to be Ronald Watts asked me, ‘Where is the dope?’ I had no idea what he was talking about and told him I didn’t have anything. He kept asking me over and over and I kept telling him the same thing, and Watts eventually smacked me twice.”

Another officer then searched Gaines and falsely claimed that he found a bag of drugs. “That was a lie, and I told him it was not mine,” Gaines said.

Jones later said, “I knew Watts because I was raised in the neighborhood and people said to avoid him because if he didn’t get what he wanted, he sent people to jail. Watts started asking me, ‘Who are you working for?’”

“He kept repeating these questions,” Jones said. “He said things like: ‘If we find something, we gonna f--- you up.’ When the officers didn’t like our answers, one of them would hit us.”

“Eventually, one of the officers handed Watts what looked like drugs,” Jones recalled. “Watts turned to me and said something like: ‘If you don’t know anything, what are these?’ I told him it looked like drugs, but they certainly weren’t mine.”

“Despite my protests, Watts said I was going to jail,” Jones said.

Jones was charged with possession of 49 baggies of heroin. Gaines was charged with possession of 109 baggies of heroin. The police report of his arrest said officers saw him in a hallway accepting money from someone in exchange for a baggie of heroin.

The report claimed that Gaines said, “Sir, it’s been a bad day. I’m not going to graduate from school so I was trying to make a little money.”

Gaines said the entire scenario, including his alleged statement, was false.

On August 3, 2004, Jones pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of heroin. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Gaines was facing four years in prison. When the prosecution offered to agree to a sentence of boot camp if he pled guilty, Gaines said he followed the advice of his father. On January 12, 2005, Gaines pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court and was sentenced to boot camp.

In 2012, Watts and a 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.

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 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 Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit (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 February 1, 2022, following an investigation by the CIU, the convictions of 19 others who were framed by Watts and his fellow officers, were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. In April 2022, more than 40 more convictions resulting from the corrupt actions of Watts and his crew were vacated and dismissed, bringing the total number of convictions vacated to more than 200.

On October 3, 2022, Gaines’s conviction and the convictions of seven others who were framed by Watts and his crew were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. Gaines was subsequently granted a certificate of innocence. In 2022, Gaines filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Chicago. In June 2023, Gaines was awarded $60,000 in state compensation.

On April 14, 2023, Jones’s conviction was vacated, and the charge was dismissed. He was granted a certificate of innocence in August 2023, clearing the way for him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. He also filed a federal lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/5/2022
Last Updated: 12/12/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Sentence:3 months
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No