According to an agreement, Baltimore will pay $48 million to three Black men who spent 36 years in jail for a high-profile killing they did not commit after police wrongfully imprisoned them as youths.
The Baltimore City Board of Estimates overwhelmingly approved the highest settlement in Maryland history this week, bringing an end to a federal lawsuit filed by the trio upon their exoneration in 2019. The guys said that officers had a record of coercing witnesses in cases dating back nearly 40 years.
Following a re-investigation, the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City ruled them not guilty. Previous testimony from eyewitnesses was rescinded, which contributed to the unjust convictions.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, dubbed the “Harlem Park Three” today, will each receive $14.9 million. Conroy stated that the remaining $3.3 million would be used to fund legal bills.
The minors were arrested in November 1983 for the murder of 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett. The adolescent was walking to class when he was assaulted and shot because of his blue Georgetown jacket.
Chestnut, Watkins, and Stewart had been removed from the same Baltimore middle school earlier that afternoon during a visit to their former haunts. During their Thanksgiving Day search of the Chestnut home, police discovered a Georgetown jacket, but Chestnut’s mother had a receipt for it, according to the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, a legal aid group that assisted in proving their innocence.
Chestnut’s records request in 2018 offered additional light on the case. It turned up evidence that other witnesses told authorities that a separate 18-year-old suspect was the shooter. As police arrived at Harlem Park Junior High School, one student observed him flee and drop a revolver.
Authorities focused their investigation on the trio at the time, and the other suspect was killed in 2002. Conroy told the Baltimore City Board of Estimates that he is unaware of any fresh investigations into prosecutorial misconduct or the deadly gunshot in 1983.
According to Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott in a statement read aloud Wednesday by a board member, the settlement speaks to “gross injustices” done by a “broader justice system” long troubled by difficulties it is striving to rectify.
“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 amount adds to the $8.7 million total granted by the Maryland Board of Public Works in March 2020 to pay the three men.
The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project stated on Facebook that “no amount of money can make up for the 36 years that each man lost” in jail.