Baltimore to pay $48 million to 3 men wrongly imprisoned for decades in ‘Georgetown jacket’ killing
Oct 20, 2023, 9:53 AM
Baltimore will pay $48 million to three Black men who each spent 36 years in prison for a high-profile killing they did not commit after police wrongly arrested them as teenagers, according to an agreement.
The largest settlement in Maryland history was unanimously approved this week by the Baltimore City Board of Estimates, closing a federal lawsuit brought by the trio after their 2019 exoneration. The men alleged that detectives had a pattern of coercing witnesses, not just in their nearly 40-year-old case.
The State’s Attorney for Baltimore City had found them innocent after a reinvestigation. Eyewitnesses renounced previous testimony that had contributed to the wrongful convictions.
“These are men who went to jail as teens and came out as young grandfathers in their fifties,” Justin Conroy, the chief legal counsel for the Baltimore Police Department, told the board on Wednesday in a meeting shared on YouTube.
Alfred Chestnut, Andrew Stewart and Ransom Watkins — known today as the “Harlem Park Three” — will each receive $14.9 million. The remaining $3.3 million will cover legal fees, Conroy said.
Authorities arrested the minors in November 1983 for the slaying of 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett. The teenager was walking to class when was accosted over his blue Georgetown jacket and shot.
Chestnut, Watkins and Stewart had been removed earlier that afternoon from the same Baltimore middle school during a visit to their old stomping grounds. Police also found a Georgetown jacket during their Thanksgiving Day search of the Chestnut home, but Chestnut’s mother had a receipt for it, said the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, a legal aid group that helped prove their innocence.
A 2018 records request filed by Chestnut shed new light on the case. It uncovered evidence showing multiple witnesses told officials that a different 18-year-old suspect was the shooter. One student saw him flee and dump a gun as police arrived at Harlem Park Junior High School.
Authorities at the time focused their investigation on the trio, and the other suspect was shot to death in 2002. Conroy told the Baltimore City Board of Estimates that he is not aware of any new investigations into prosecutorial misconduct or the 1983 fatal shooting.
The settlement speaks to “gross injustices” wrought by a “broader justice system” long beset by issues it is working to overcome, said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott in a statement read aloud Wednesday by a board member.
“Our city is in a position where in 2023 we are literally paying for the misconduct of BPD officers decades in the past. This is part of the price our city must pay to right the many wrongs of this terrible history,” Scott said in the statement.
The sum adds to the $8.7 million total approved in March 2020 by the Maryland Board of Public Works to compensate the three men.
In a Facebook post, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project said “no amount of money can make up for the 36 years that each man lost” in prison.
Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.