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Joshua King

Summary of the Watts Scandal
On April 3, 2007, 18-year-old Joshua King and his mother were standing outside the Ida B. Wells public housing development when Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and fellow officer Alvin Jones drove up.

King later said that Jones “grabbed me and immediately started asking me ‘where it was.’ I did not know what he was talking about. Al told me that there had been a shooting and that I could either give him the gun or they would put one on me. I told him that I had no weapon and was not involved in any shooting.”

Watts then detained King while Jones and other officers went into the building.

“Watts continued to harass me, saying that I either needed to give him the gun or they were going to find it,” King said.

“Eventually, over the walkie talkie, I heard someone say, ‘We got it,’” King said. “Shortly thereafter, Jones came out of the building with a gun.”

King was charged with unlawful possession of a Tec-9 semi-automatic pistol containing 17 live rounds of ammunition. The police report falsely said that the officers saw King shove a sweatshirt through an open window. The barrel of a gun was protruding from the sweatshirt, the police report said.

On June 6, 2007, King pled guilty to unlawful possession of a weapon. He was sentenced to 16 months 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. The Chicago Police Department sought to fire Jones, but he retired before he could be fired.

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, King’s conviction and the convictions of seven others framed by Watts and his crew of officers were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. King subsequently was granted a certificate of innocence. He filed a federal lawsuit in December 2022. In July 2023, King was awarded $40,000 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/4/2022
Last Updated: 12/13/2023
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:1 year and 4 months
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No