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Damian Culverson

Summary of the Watts scandal
On October 17, 2007, 22-year-old Damian Culverson was visiting friends at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. Culverson had formerly lived at the development for several years, and so when he saw Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his team of officers drive up, Culverson began walking away.

Culverson spotted a friend, Sean Patterson, who was sitting in his car. Culverson got into the car, but it was too late. “Less than a minute after I got into the car, a police officer ordered me to get out of the car,” Culverson later recalled.

Culverson was handcuffed and taken to the police station. There, “Watts showed me a bag that looked like it had baggies of drugs in it,” Culverson said. “I truthfully told him the bag wasn’t mine. Watts told me words to the effect of: ‘You think you’re a stand up guy. Let’s see you stand up to this case in court.”

Culverson was charged with possession of six baggies of heroin. On November 28, 2007, he pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of narcotics. He 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 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, Culverson’s conviction and the convictions of seven others framed by Watts and his team of officers were vacated, and the charges were dismissed. Culverson subsequently was granted a certifiate of innocence. In 2022, Culverson filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation from the city of Chicago. In September 2023, Culverson was awarded $40,000 in state compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/7/2022
Last Updated: 12/12/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:3 months
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No