Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Felony charge dropped against teen: 'Happiest day in my life'

BY MARY MITCHELL <mailto:marym@suntimes.com> Sun-Times Columnist
Suzette Lloyd got her miracle. "He's free. It's over," Lloyd screamed
into my ear when I answered my cell phone. "Thank you, Ms. Mitchell,
thank you."

"This is the happiest day in my life," Jemelle Lloyd shouted in the
background. "It's like the biggest birthday present."

Jemelle also thanked everyone who prayed for him. He turned 18 on Nov.
13. It was a birthday he'll never forget.

On that day, he had to go to court on disgraceful charges that he and
five other young black males beat up a man in Hyde Park in an attempt to
rob him of $5.

Jemelle swore to police, to his mother and to me that he had nothing to
do with the assault. He is a "B" student, captain of his school's
basketball team, and has no arrests or convictions on his record.

He was charged with a felony and was kicked out of the Chicago Military
Academy in Bronzeville.

After three weeks of being treated like a criminal by police,
prosecutors and school officials, Jemelle finally had someone in
authority take his side last Monday.

In a hearing at criminal court, Judge Donald Panarese ruled there was no
"probable cause" for Jemelle to be charged.

The judge also dropped the charges against Lawrence Gardner and
Alexander Tolls, the Cook County state's attorney's office confirmed.

Three others: Van Epinger, 17; Michael Pleasants, 17, and Armani Carson,
18, will be indicted in the case.

Jemelle had maintained he was walking to a bus stop -- dressed in the
same school uniforms as the other five students -- when he was
apprehended by the University of Chicago police as a suspect in the crime.

Jemelle spent three days in Cook County Jail before his mother could
scrape together the $5,000 she needed to post bond.

But his mother believed in his innocence to the point that she reached
out to everyone and anyone she thought could help.

Although that legal fight is over, the arrest had a profound impact on
her son, the mother said.

"He's just trying to get his life back together," Suzette Lloyd told me
on Monday.

"What's really bothering him is that the police officer pulled a gun out
and stuck it in his face when they were arresting him. I think that was
the most devastating thing that's happened to him."

After I put a spotlight on Jemelle's plight, several high-powered
attorneys, including former appellate justice R. Eugene Pincham, agreed
to take on Jemelle's case pro bono.

"This case just wasn't handled properly," said Pincham, who was in court
when the charges against Jemelle were dropped.

"As it is, three black children will be forever barred from a decent
life because they made one mistake. These are the instances when we need
daring, creative, innovative solutions so as not to destroy three young

Without a doubt, what the three teens are accused of doing is despicable.

But like Pincham, I'm concerned about how quickly black males are cycled
into the criminal justice system.

In Jemelle's case, police didn't even put together a lineup. Worse yet,
the Chicago Public Schools kicked Jemelle out in his senior year, and
shipped him across the city on the Northwest Side to an alternative high
school before he was found guilty of anything.

Had these young men been suburban, white and first-time offenders, they
would have probably been given a "station adjustment."

That's when a parent is hauled down to the police station and between
the parents and the cops, the teen is made to see the error of his ways
without being hit with formal charges.

Although the charges against Jemelle have been dropped, Suzette Lloyd
knows that's not enough.

"I've got to try and clear his record up in some kind of way. I've got
to get it off his record and have everything expunged," she said.

The mother said this ordeal has stressed her out.

"I'm relieved so much that I have my son for Thanksgiving. But I'm
bothered that no one said I'm sorry to the young men who didn't commit
the crime," she said.

Considering that so many other young black males have spent decades in
prisons for crimes that they didn't commit, Jemelle is extremely blessed.

Still, this is just one case in the hundreds of cases that happened that
same day, Pincham reminded me.

"The judicial system and the police department need to be more
sensitive. That is why the jail now is full of black folks," he said.

The Lloyds are very grateful for the generosity of readers. Their
donations to Jemelle's defense fund totaled about $3,500. After paying
for expenses related to this case, the balance of this fund will be
banked to help someone else. But if you wish for your check to be
returned, please contact my office at (312) 321-2585.


Anonymous said...

But like Pincham, I'm concerned about how quickly black males are cycled
into the criminal justice system.

Had these young men been suburban, white and first-time offenders, they
would have probably been given a "station adjustment."

So sick of the race card. The police are NOT specifically looking for black men to arrest. I'm sure they dont say every morning "hey lets see how many black men we can arrest today". It's a shame that these boys got caught up in something they didn't do, but for God's sake, leave race out of it. I didnt see anyone making donations to get the white boys at Duke Univ. who were FALSELY ACCUSED OF RAPE off the hook. Oh that's right, they're white, they don't deserve it. Touche.

Anonymous said...

I came across this article when I was doing research on felony charges still on record after the charges were dropped. I am researching because my son was charged with a crime he didn't commit and and the charges were eventually dropped after much money was paid out. We don't have the money for attorneys. My son is a white male and cannot use the NAACP and all of the other organizations out there set up for blacks. We need to work together not to seperate races but find the problems with the justice system, corrupt cops (black and white) and the legal process that has become a money game and not an innocent until proven guilty violation of all our rights. It has become guilty until you pay enough money to buy your innocence. Many of us, black and white, don't have that kind of money.

Anonymous said...

One of my buddy's recently got into some trouble at a bar and the short story is he was arrested on assault charges which are ridiculous we were there and watched as a random guy came up to him punched him in the face and began repeatedly beating him. He stood up to defend himself and in the crossfire the wasted dude fell and banged his head on the kerb. The cops show up and don't want to hear us and arrest him.
It all got cleared up in the end but had that have gone to court and my friend had to have paid court bonds could he have claimed them back or even sued the police force for wrongful arrest? Also where would be the best place for getting bonded?