BY MARY MITCHELL <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> 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,
"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
"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.