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Jermaine Coleman

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
On May 3, 2006, 19-year-old Jermaine Coleman and 22-year-old Jabal Stokes were standing in the 500 block of East Browning Street in front of the Ida B. Wells public housing complex in Chicago, Illinois when Chicago police arrived and placed them under arrest.

Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and several other officers, including Kallatt Mohammed and Alvin Jones, rounded up others who were also standing outside. The men were herded into the lobby of the apartment building and searched. Nothing illegal was found.

The men, nearly a dozen in all, were taken to a Chicago police station where Jones took out several packages of drugs from the pocket of his shirt. Watts announced, “Who wants to talk to me first?”

Coleman later said that after Watts talked to nearly all of the men, they were released (except for one who had an outstanding warrant). Watts then told Coleman and Stokes they were being charged with possession of narcotics. Years later, Coleman said he believed that Watts chose him and Stokes because they did not have any money to pay to Watts for their release.

On June 29, 2006, Coleman pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to four years in prison.

On July 17, 2006, Stokes pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to four years in prison.

Both men were released from prison on parole on November 1, 2007.

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.

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 trial 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 began investigating the cases and agreed that convictions should be vacated and dismissed.

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

In 2019, Flaxman filed petitions seeking to vacate both men’s convictions. On February 13, 2019, the convictions were vacated and the charges were dismissed, bringing the total to more than 60 convictions erased in the Watts corruption scandal. Coleman and Stokes subsequently obtained certificates of innocence and in June 2019, he was awarded $40,000 in state compensation. In April 2019, Coleman filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Chicago, Watts and other current and former Chicago police officers.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/21/2019
Last Updated: 9/10/2019
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2006
Sentence:4 years
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No