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Jermaine Coleman

Summary of Watts Scandal
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Cook_County_seal.jpg
On January 20, 2003, 16-year-old Jermaine Coleman was visiting his cousin at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois when Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and officer Alvin Jones came to the door.

They searched the apartment but found nothing illegal. Another officer was heard saying over the radio: “I found it.” At that, Watts pointed at Coleman.

“You’re coming with us,” Watts said.

At the police station, Coleman was charged with possession of heroin. On September 7, 2004, Coleman pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to a year 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. In January 2021, Jones was stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave.

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 (CIU) began investigating the cases and agreed that convictions should be vacated and dismissed.

On February 2, 2022, Coleman’s conviction was vacated, as were the convictions of 18 other people framed by Watts and members of his crew. All the charges were dismissed.

For Coleman, it was the second exoneration of a Watts drug arrest. On May 3, 2006, Coleman and 22-year-old Jabal Stokes were arrested in the 500 block of East Browning Street in front of a housing development. In that case, Watts and several other officers, including Mohammed and Jones, rounded up others who were also standing outside and herded them into the lobby of the apartment building. Searches were conducted, but 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 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.

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. Coleman was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/14/2022
Last Updated: 4/22/2022
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2003
Convicted:2004
Exonerated:2022
Sentence:1 year
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No