The police and a judge were against him, but Brandon Watson managed to get a more powerful force on his side: a jury of his peers.
As WAVY-TV reported last month, Watson, a resident of Portsmouth, Virginia, was facing charges of recklessly handling a firearm after shooting at the police.
One judge had found him guilty, but on appeal another judge declared a mistrial, allowing Watson to present his story to a jury.
Once they heard it, they determined he was not guilty in a mere 47 minutes of deliberation, WAVY reported.
It all started in January 2013, when police came to Watson's home responding to a 911 call.
"'Oh my gosh, someone is in the backyard,'” Watson recalled his wife saying.
He grabbed his legal handgun and went to his back door.
“I announced myself, ‘Who is that? Who is that? I have a gun,’" he told WAVY. "And as soon as I said that, two red laser beams were on my chest. So I looked at the red laser beams on my chest, and I fired a warning shot.”
That warning shot didn't hit anyone, WAVY reported, but it earned him a misdemeanor charge of reckless firearm use.
“As far as the officers' response, I support their response 100 percent,” Portsmouth Police Chief Ed Hargis told WAVY. He said his men never heard Watson say he had a gun. “Anytime the police hear there is a firearm, they start giving verbal commands, and they start yelling police.”
But Hargis' men were in the wrong yard that January evening: The 911 call had actually come from Watson's neighbor, who had heard noises in her home.
“When [the police] went around from the front, they started counting two, three, four. Then they see [Watson's] gate that is open, and that raises suspicion that must be the house," Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Earle Mobley said.
Despite the mistake, and the fact that Watson did not realize it was law enforcement in his backyard that night, Mobley pushed the misdemeanor prosecution, saying, “You cannot fire indiscriminately through the window.”
But the jury disagreed.
“The commonwealth [of Virginia] really didn’t have a case," juror Danny Barnes said. "It wasn’t reckless, so it didn’t take a lot of discussion.”
Barnes, who is also a WAVY employee, shed more light on the deliberations.
“There was agreement if there had been more than one bullet hole, had he sprayed the wall with bullets, bang, bang, bang, that would have been reckless,” Barnes said, adding that the actions of the police put Watson in a no-win situation. “The police kept saying they had their weapons pointed at the ground at all times. At the same time, they said they were using their TAC lights on the gun to illuminate whatever they were looking at. You can’t be doing both at the same time, that’s contradictory.”
Following the jury's decision, the tables have turned: WAVY reported that Watson is moving forward with a lawsuit against the city of Portsmouth.
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