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Mahlik Washington

Summary of the Watts scandal
On February 16, 2008, 16-year-old Mahlik Washington was in the lobby of a building at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and members of his undercover narcotics team entered.

Watts approached Washington and asked Washington if he was working for anyone, in particular Kwame “Insane” Fears. Washington said he was not. Although Watts searched Washington and found nothing illegal, Washington was among a group of people taken to the police station.

Washington later said that Fears was at the station. Watts asked Fears to follow him, and they moved off to the side of the room. Following their conversation, Watts handcuffed Washington and charged him with possession of cocaine.

In May 2008, Watts and fellow officer Kallatt Mohammed approached Washington, who was free on bond, and asked where Washington’s cousin was. Washington said he did not know. Washington later said Watts told him “not to worry about it,” and that Watts “had something for me.”

A few days later, on May 23, 2008, Washington was visiting his grandmother at one of the buildings in the development when Mohammed and officer Alvin Jones knocked on the door. Mohammed grabbed Washington saying, “We told you we had something for you.” Asked again about the whereabouts of his cousin, Washington said he did not know.

Jones then slapped Washington several times and repeated the question. Washington insisted he did not know where his cousin was. Mohammed then said Washington was under arrest.

When Washington’s grandmother asked why they were arresting her grandson, Mohammed raised his hand holding a bag of drugs. Washington was taken to the lobby of the building where he was handcuffed. Watts approached and said, “I told you we had something for you.” Watts then took Washington’s money.

On September 8 and October 29, 2008, Washington pled guilty in Cook County Juvenile Court to possession of heroin. He was adjudicated as a delinquent and sentenced to a total of three years on probation.

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. In January 2021, officer Alvin 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. 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. On June 3, 2022, Washington’s adjudications were vacated, and the charges were dismissed.

Washington 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.

Washington 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: 9/13/2023
Last Updated: 9/13/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No