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Jermaine Morris

Other Cook County, Illinois exonerations with no crime
On December 24, 2004, 25-year-old Jermaine Morris was knocking on the door to the apartment of his girlfriend at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, when Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and several other officers approached.

They searched Morris and found $2,500 he was carrying. “Watts took the $2,500 and told me I was going to jail,” Morris later said.

Morris was charged with possession of heroin and crack cocaine. On February 5, 2005, Morris pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

On February 4, 2006, 28-year-old Gregory Warren and Morris walked out of the back door of a building in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois just as a group of officers led by Watts converged on the parking lot.

The officers herded several people, including Warren and Morris, from the parking lot into the lobby of the building and began searching them. Before Warren was searched, Watts told him he was going to jail. When Warren asked why, Watts replied, “You’ll see” and handcuffed him.

Watts, accompanied by Officer Alvin Jones, led Warren around a corner where they searched him and found no drugs. They took the cash from his wallet and told Warren his money would be used to buy Popeyes chicken for the officers.

Warren and Morris were taken to the police station at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue, where they were handcuffed to a bench. At one point, Watts opened a desk drawer. He pulled out what appeared to be drugs and said, “These are yours.” Warren was charged with possession of 60 baggies of heroin. Morris was charged with possession of 25 baggies of heroin.

As the paperwork for their arrests was being filled out, an officer arrived with bags of food from Popeyes, and Watts and the others ate in front of Warren and Morris. They offered Warren and Morris some of the chicken, but they refused.

On June 23, 2006, Morris, who had two prior drug convictions as the result of similar arrests by Watts, pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

On August 16, 2007, Warren pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of heroin. He was sentenced to probation for two years.

In 2012, Watts and 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 (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.

In December 2016, Tepfer and attorney Joel Flaxman filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of Lionel White Sr., another defendant who claimed he had been 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,” the motion said.

The CIU agreed that White’s conviction should be vacated and dismissed the charge.

In November 2017, following a re-investigation of numerous other cases involving Watts, the CIU dismissed 17 convictions involving 15 more defendants, including the conviction of Lionel White Jr., the son of Lionel White Sr.

On September 24, 2018, the CIU dismissed Warren’s conviction. Warren was subsequently granted a certificate of innocence, clearing the way for him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. He also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

By the fall of 2020, about 75 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed. During the reinvestigation of both of Morris’s cases, he gave a sworn declaration saying that prior to his 2006 arrest, Watts had harassed him for money and took money from him on several occasions.

On December 15, 2020, following an investigation by the CIU, Morris’s 2004 conviction as well as the convictions of five other men who said they were framed by Watts and his crew were vacated and dismissed. Morris was granted a certificate of innocence for the 2004 case in February 2021 and he was awarded $85,000 in compensation from the state of Illinois.

In February 2021, Morris’s 2006 conviction was vacated and dismissed along with the cases of eight other men who were framed by Watts and his fellow officers. Morris subsequently filed a petition for a certificate in that case as well.

In April 2022, Morris was exonerated of a third drug conviction based on evidence that Watts and his crew had framed him.

In 2022, Morris was granted $22,000 in state compensation for his 2005 and 2006 convictions. He also filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/19/2021
Last Updated: 12/6/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Sentence:2 years
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No