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Melvin Irving

Summary of the Watts scandal
On June 4, 2005, 18-year-old Melvin Irving was attending a party with friends in a 7th floor apartment at the Ida B. Wells public housing development. He and others were in the hallway when Chicago police officers suddenly came onto the floor and began grabbing people and forcing them to stand against the wall.

When officer Robert Gonzalez attempted to handcuff Irving, Irving protested that he had done nothing wrong. “The officer started yelling back at me and told me he could put drug cases on all of us,” Irving later recalled.

Irving said that when he continued to argue, Gonzalez “choked me and hit me in the head with a gun. I passed out…and the next thing I remember is being on the first floor in cuffs. I saw some officers talking, and then they took me to the police station.”

At the station, Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts asked Irving if he needed to go to the hospital. Irving said he asked Watts why he didn’t intercede when Gonzalez was “beating me up.” Watts and Gonzalez laughed in response, Irving said.

Irving was charged with possession of 28 baggies of heroin. The police report falsely claimed that officers saw Irving make two drug sales on the ground floor. When the officer approached, Irving fled up the stairs to the seventh floor and into an apartment where they saw him toss baggies of drugs into a toilet and attempted to flush the baggies away. The report said that when Gonzalez came into the bathroom, Irving began punching and kicking Gonzalez. Gonzalez reported that he then applied “use of force model—open hand strikes and stunning techniques” to subdue Irving and handcuff him.

On January 12, 2006, Irving pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of narcotics. He was sentenced to one year in prison.

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 framed by Watts and his fellow officers were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. In April 2022, more than 40 additional 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, Irving’s conviction and the convictions of seven others who were framed by Watts and his officers were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. Irving was subsequently granted a certificate of innocence. He filed a federal lawsuit in January 2023. In June 2023, Irving was awarded $25,000 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/4/2022
Last Updated: 12/13/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Sentence:1 year
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No