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Joseph Perry

Summary of the Watts Scandal
On April 5, 2005, Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and officers under his command approached 18-year-old Joseph Perry at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, and demanded that he give them information about the location of drugs and guns.

It was not the first time Perry had been confronted by the officers, but on this occasion, when Perry said he had no information, the officers beat him, giving him two black eyes.

On April 7, 2005, Perry was on the front porch of a building in the housing development when Watts and two other officers, including Kallatt Mohammed, started walking toward the building. “I immediately ran in the building because I knew these officers were corrupt and had threatened and beaten me previously,” Perry later recalled. “After I ran, other people were saying that other officers were coming in the back.”

The officers started grabbing people and detaining them. Perry was grabbed on the stairwell and walked up to the fifth floor, where several others also were detained.

“Watts started threatening me and said if I didn’t give him information, drugs or money, he was going to put a case on me,” Perry said. “I protested and Watts said to his teammates, ‘All right, just take him downstairs.’”

Perry said he was put in the back of a police car with two others. He said an officer in the front passenger seat “took out baggies of narcotics and a gun. The officer said he was trying to figure out how he was gonna split this up and who they were gonna put it on.”

Perry said Watts got into the driver’s seat and after being assured by the officer that he had everything sorted out, they drove to the police station. “Watts told me that I was gonna be charged with four Class X offenses,” Perry said. “And that is exactly what happened.’

Perry was charged with armed violence, possession of 14 baggies of heroin, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

Facing several years in prison, Perry said that he accepted the prosecution’s offer to plead guilty to the gun possession charge and the other charges would be dismissed. On June 20, 2005, Perry pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

In 2012, Watts and 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, Perry’s conviction and the convictions of seven others framed by Watts and his crew of officers were vacated and the charges were dismissed. Perry was subsequently granted a certificate of innocence. In August 2023, Perry was awarded $100,000 in state compensation.

In 2023, Perry filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/11/2022
Last Updated: 12/13/2023
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Sentence:3 years
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No