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Christopher Jones

Summary of the Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On May 31, 2008, 27-year-old Christopher Jones left his mother’s home on South Calumet Avenue in Chicago, Illinois and bumped into some friends who were hanging out together. One of them said they were getting ready to leave the area because not long before, Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts had ordered them to leave and threatened to arrest them for trespassing if they didn’t move on.

“We all started to leave when a number of police cars and a paddy wagon showed up,” Jones later recalled. “Watts jumped out of one of the cars and told everyone to freeze. Other officers also jumped. They started detaining people, zip-tying our wrists, and putting us into the paddy wagon. I didn’t have anything illegal on me.”

They were taken to a police station and put on a metal bench. One of the men, known as “Buddha,” asked to speak with Watts. Watts took Buddha into another room and later returned without Buddha. He walked directly to Jones and told him to stand up.

Jones said Watts and three other officers, including Kallatt Mohammed, took him into a bathroom. “Watts asked me where the drugs were at,” Jones recalled. “I told them I didn’t have any drugs. He then strip-searched me. They didn’t find anything.”

“Watts then asked me where the money was,” Jones said. “I told him I didn’t have any money. He asked if I wanted to go home and said if I did, I needed to give him the money. I told him I didn’t understand what he was talking about.”

Watts then took Jones back to the bench and told officers to look for a “black magnet box.” The officers began searching the police station. “I didn’t really understand what was going on, but then, all of a sudden, one of the officers pulled a box out from under one of their desks. He gave it to Watts and then Watts opened it up. A number of small baggies that appeared to be narcotics tumbled out of the box and onto the desk. Watts looked at me and said, ‘We found it.’”

Meanwhile, officers were sent to the home of Jones’s mother, where Jones lived. They would later claim they found a gun and 91 baggies of heroin in a closet. Jones’s mother denied that police found any drugs or a gun in the home.

Jones was charged with possession of a nine-millimeter pistol and possession with intent to deliver heroin.

On September 12, 2008, Jones pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to illegal possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to four 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, Jones’s conviction and the convictions of seven others framed by Watts and his fellow officers were vacated and the charges were dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/11/2022
Last Updated: 10/11/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Convicted:2008
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:4 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No