Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Laurarence Coleman

Summary of Watts Scandal
On April 21, 2008, 43-year-old Laurarence Coleman was charged with possession of cocaine and heroin at the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Chicago, Illinois. She was charged under the name of Diana Rena.

Coleman was arrested by a police officer working under Sgt. Ronald Watts, who Coleman knew as a corrupt police officer. She had been falsely accused of drug possession by Watts and his officers in 2006 and the case had been dismissed in court before she went to trial.

The officer who searched her on April 21, 2008, Lamonica Lewis, known as “Coco,” did not find anything illegal. Coleman was taken to the police station anyway and was charged under the name of Diana Rena with possession of 55 baggies of heroin and 6 baggies of cocaine.

On June 12, 2008, Coleman pled guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to possession of a controlled substance. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

In 2012, Watts and a 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.

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 trials 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 the convictions should be vacated and dismissed. By the end of 2021, more than 90 convictions tainted by Watts and members of his unit had been dismissed.

On February 1, 2022, following an investigation by the CIU, Coleman’s conviction, along with the convictions of 18 others framed by Watts and his fellow officers, was vacated and the charge was dismissed.

Coleman was awarded a certificate of innocence in April 2022. In July 2022, Coleman was awarded $22,000 in state compensation, including $2,000 in attorney's fees. He later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 2/16/2022
Last Updated: 2/20/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2008
Sentence:1 year and 6 months
Age at the date of reported crime:43
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No