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Jamar Lewis

Other Cook County Drug Exonerations
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On June 28, 2004, Chicago police officers working under Sgt. Ronald Watts arrested 22-year-old Jamar Lewis in his aunt’s 5th floor apartment at the Ida B. Wells public housing development. Lewis was charged with drug distribution. Police said he was selling drugs in the hallway and that when he suspected police were closing in, he tossed a plastic bag containing 50 baggies of crack cocaine down a trash chute in a nearby incinerator room.

Lewis went to trial on January 6, 2005, and chose to have the case decided by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Marjorie Laws without a jury.

Officer Gerome Summers testified that he and his partner, Calvin Ridgell, were in a vacant apartment on the fifth floor. He said they took turns looking through a narrow space created by slightly opening the door.

Summers said that after watching Lewis make three sales of narcotics, he radioed for nearby police units to close in. However, residents became aware of the police and alerted Lewis, who ran into the incinerator room and tossed the bag down the chute.

Summers testified that the bag came to rest on a Nike shoebox on the top of the trash pile at the first floor level and could be seen by peering down the chute from the fifth floor.

Summers testified that when he took Lewis to his squad car, he read Lewis his Miranda warnings and then asked why he went into the incinerator room. Summer said Lewis replied, “I threw the rocks down there trying to get away.”

Lewis testified and denied selling drugs or tossing any drugs down the trash chute. He said he was visiting his aunt’s apartment to see his cousin when 20 minutes after he arrived, police came to the door and arrested him. Lewis denied that Summers read him Miranda warnings, and denied saying that he threw the drugs down the trash chute.

Lewis’s attorney, Matthew Mahoney, presented three photographs of the hallway that depicted the door to Lewis’s aunt’s apartment, the incinerator door, and the door to the apartment from which Summers said he and his partner conducted their surveillance.

In closing argument, Mahoney argued that the photographs showed that the officers could not have seen what they said they saw. “It is highly doubtful if not impossible for the officers to see the trash chute door and see the defendant dispose of the plastic bag down there,” Mahoney declared.

Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Barbara Dawkins countered, saying, “Your honor, these officers are unimpeached. They have no reason to lie. And they did not lie in this case as opposed to this defendant, who is a convicted felon, who stood before your honor and wants you to believe that he was basically framed—that these officers picked him out of all the people (in the building) and put drugs on him.”

Judge Laws convicted Lewis of possession of narcotics. “I feel the State has overwhelmingly met their burden in this case proving the defendant guilty of this activity,” Judge Laws said.

Lewis, who had prior convictions for unlawful use of a firearm and possession of drugs, was sentenced to 5 years in prison. He was released on August 13, 2008.

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 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 protections 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 School of Law, 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.

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 Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit 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 Cook County State's Attorney's conviction integrity unit dismissed 17 convictions involving 15 more defendants, including Lewis and Lionel White Jr., the son of Lionel White Sr.

By 2018, more than 50 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed.

In 2018, Lewis was granted a certificate of innocence, which resulted in an award of $97,075 in compensation from the state of Illinois. He also filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court seeking damages.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/28/2018
Last Updated: 3/30/2019
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Convicted:2005
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:5 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No