By JIM SALTER, Associated Press
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Prosecutors in Ferguson have dropped charges against a Navy veteran who lost his job after his arrest five years ago in a case highlighted in a scathing U.S. Department of Justice report, attorneys for the man said Tuesday.
Fred Watson was sitting in his car after playing pickup basketball in 2012 when an officer approached and eventually pointed a gun at his head. Watson contended he did nothing wrong but was eventually charged with nine municipal counts for offenses such as driving with an expired license and failing to wear a seatbelt.
All nine charges were dropped Monday. No explanation was given but the decision came a week after a New York Times article saying the persistent charges against Watson raised doubts about reform in Ferguson.
Ferguson prosecutor Lee Goodman didn’t immediately return an email from The Associated Press seeking comment. City Attorney Apollo Carey declined comment.
Watson, a black 37-year-old single father from St. Louis, said in a statement that the decision to drop charges won’t get him his job back. He had worked as a government cybersecurity contractor for nearly 10 years at the time of his arrest, including two years with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. He had top-secret security clearance, which he lost due to the arrest.
“I don’t have my security clearance,” Watson said. “I’m looking for a work and I’m worried about how we are going to keep the lights on and food on the table.”
Watson said Ferguson and other municipal courts around St. Louis “have destroyed the lives of families throughout this region.”
The Justice Department launched an investigation of Ferguson after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014. The shooting of the unarmed, black 18-year-old by a white officer led to months of unrest. A grand jury and the Justice Department declined to prosecute officer Darren Wilson, who resigned in November 2014.
But the case brought to light long-standing concerns about racial intimidation and profiling in the St. Louis County town. The Justice Department investigation resulted in a settlement requiring the city to reform police and court practices.
Watson’s case was cited near the top of the Justice Department report. It does not identify him by name but said what happened to him was an example of how “relatively routine misconduct by Ferguson police officers can have significant consequences for the people whose rights are violated.”
A federal lawsuit filed in July against Ferguson and the arresting officer contends that Watson and friends were playing basketball at Forestwood Park on Aug. 1, 2012. Watson was in his car cooling off when the officer approached and demanded that Watson put his hands on the steering wheel.
It wasn’t clear what prompted the confrontation, though the officer, citing the presence of children in the park, suggested that it was possible Watson was a pedophile. Missouri’s online court records show no criminal record for Watson.
Watson told the officer he did nothing wrong. He refused to give his social security number and asked for the officer’s name and badge number.
The suit said that when Watson picked up his phone to call 911, the officer pulled a gun and demanded that he put it down. Watson was taken to a holding cell and released after posting $700 bond.