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Christopher Turner

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
In 2003, 18-year-old Anthony Baker learned the hard way that Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his crew of officers were corrupt. He was on the way to buy new clothes with money his mother had given him from her income tax refund. As Baker left the building where he lived in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois, Watts stopped him and searched him.

“He found the money my mother had given me and took it,” Baker later said. “I told him that my mother had given me the money, but he didn’t listen. He told me that if he saw me again, he would arrest me. He let me go, but kept my money.”

Months later, on June 24, 2003, Baker was in an apartment with some friends, including 18-year-old Christopher Turner, when Watts and his officers entered. “The officers searched me and the other guys and didn’t find anything,” Baker said. “The officers then handcuffed me.”

Watts announced he had found heroin behind the refrigerator in the kitchen. Watts asked Baker whose drugs they were. When Baker said he didn’t know, Watts got physical. “Watts then struck me with a broomstick that he picked up off the floor,” Baker said. “He hit me three separate times.”

Watts then arrested Baker and charged him with possession of 12 baggies of heroin. The police report said the drugs were found in Baker’s pants pocket.

Watts also arrested Turner. At the police station, Turner was handcuffed to a bench. Watts approached and “dropped a bag of drugs on the table in front of me,” Turner later said. “I contested that the drugs weren’t mine. He told me that I could help myself out by giving him what he wanted. He said he was getting off in a couple of hours and he could help me out. I told him I didn’t have anything for him.” Turner was charged with possession of 40 baggies of heroin.

On August 7, 2003, Turner pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

On August 11, 2003, Baker pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of narcotics. He was sentenced to one year on probation.

On January 13, 2005, Turner was framed again. He was hanging out with some friends outside one of the Ida B. Wells buildings when Watts and other officers rolled up. “They jumped out of their vehicles and rushed into the building,” Turner said. “After a while the officers all came out of the building. They apparently couldn’t find who they were looking for because they didn’t have anyone in custody when they came out.”

“A bunch of us started talking smack and harassing Watts and his team,” Turner said. “People, including myself, started making fun of them for coming to the building and not catching anyone. Watts looked at me and said, ‘You think you’re funny? Come here.’”

Watts searched Turner, and although he found nothing illegal, he handcuffed Turner and took him to the police station. There, Turner was charged with possession of 57 baggies of cocaine.

On August 3, 2005, Turner pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

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 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.

On February 1, 2022, Baker’s conviction, along with the convictions of 18 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, was vacated and dismissed following an investigation by the CIU.

On February 16, 2022, following an investigation by the CIU, both of Turner’s convictions, along with the convictions of 14 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, were vacated and the charges were dismissed. These dismissals raised the total of convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit to nearly 150. Turner was awarded a certificate of innocence in both cases in April 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/14/2022
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Convicted:2005
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:3 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No