For years, Ben Baker tried to tell anyone who would listen that he had been framed.
Baker admitted that he had sold drugs in the past at the Ida B. Wells housing project on Chicago’s south side. But he says after Chicago Police sergeant Ronald Watts came to him demanding payments, he refused. And that’s when he said his troubles began.
Baker says Watts and fellow officers set him in a bogus drug case. But when he tried to blow the whistle on the cops, no one believed him, and Baker ended up spending the next ten years in jail.
“They was investigating these officers at the time I was taking the stand,” he said. “but they chose to say their credibility was more important than mine.”
It wasn’t until Watts and a fellow officer eventually ended up doing time themselves for the very misconduct Baker had alleged, that prosecutors finally listened to him and set him free.
But there was a problem. There was another case.
While Baker was awaiting trial on the original charges, he and his wife Clarissa Glenn were stopped by Watts and his crew, who alleged they had discovered heroin in their car -- retaliation he said, for trying to alert authorities to the first shakedown.
Baker ended up pleading guilty to the second charge, so that his wife could stay home with their three young children. But on Wednesday, two months after he walked out of prison himself, a judge vacated the drug charges against both Watts and his wife.
“Feels like a thousand pounds of pressure has been relieved off my chest,” he said.
Baker’s wife Clarissa said it was a rough road – keeping her children on the straight and narrow, knowing their father was doing time for a crime he didn’t commit. Indeed, a crime he had taken the rap for, to keep her out of jail.
“I love him for that,” she said through tears. “It can’t be right, because he missed so much time. It was hard—my boys were crying for their dad.”
Both say they tried repeatedly to tell their story—to the Office of Professional Standards, to the State’s Attorney and Attorney General, even to the FBI. All complaints fell on deaf ears. And Baker spent years behind bars.
Then, after Baker’s release in January, justice moved swiftly. His attorney Joshua Tepfer filed a motion to have the charges vacated just five days ago. And Wednesday, the state did not oppose that motion.
“One of those rare moments, when there was some dignity in that courtroom at 26th and California,” Tepfer said.
But amidst the joy of their cleared records, the couple says their troubles aren’t over.
“I’m saying I don’t feel safe,” Baker says.
That’s because only Watts and Mohammed were ever charged in this case. Other officers alleged the entire team was tainted. And, as Tepfer noted, three of those officers testified in Baker’s trial.
“There’s no other reasonable conclusion but to say that they were lying, because Ben Baker has been certified as innocent,” he said.
Tepfer has repeatedly called for the Chicago Police Department to investigate the case, and its unfinished business.
“All three of those officers are still on the street,” he noted. “And one has been promoted to sergeant.”