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Terrell Champagne

Summary of the Watts scandal
On August 29, 2007, 16-year-old Terrell Champagne was visiting friends at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when suddenly, people began running from the lobby of the building at 540 E. 36th Street. They were being chased by Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and members of his undercover narcotics unit.

When Champagne saw the police grabbing people, he took off as well. Officer Alvin Jones caught up to Champagne and slugged him on the head with his gun. After police took him for treatment of a laceration on his head, Champagne was arrested and charged with possession of heroin and cocaine.

On April 29, 2008, Champagne pled guilty to the charge in Cook County Juvenile Court. He was adjudicated delinquent for possession of narcotics and sentenced to 30 days in a juvenile detention center followed by a year of probation.

In 2012, Watts and fellow officer Kallat 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. In January 2021, Jones was stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave. He retired in 2022.

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 (CIU) 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 CIU began investigating the cases and agreed that the convictions should be vacated and dismissed. On October 6, 2021, Champagne’s adjudication was vacated, and the charge was dismissed. By the end of 2021, more than 90 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed.

By April 2022, more than 200 convictions resulting from Watts and his crew had been vacated and the charges dismissed.

Champagne subsequently filed a petition for a certificate of innocence to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. The petition was denied on the ground that a juvenile adjudication was not entitled to a certificate. That ruling was appealed.

Champagne also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago and the officers seeking compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/19/2023
Last Updated: 9/19/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:30 days
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No