After 5 Years, Ferguson Drops Bogus Charges That Cost Navy Veteran His Job

In its 2015 report on the Ferguson, Missouri, police department's rights-violating, revenue-maximizing enforcement of the city's municipal code, the Justice Department described a 32-year-old African-American man who was accosted by a cop while "sitting in his car cooling off after playing basketball" in a local park on a summer afternoon in 2012. That man was Fred Watson, a Navy veteran who at the time worked as cybersecurity contractor for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. His encounter with Ferguson Officer Eddie Boyd III resulted in nine charges that caused Watson to lose his security clearance and his job. Yesterday, more than five years after the incident, the city of Ferguson finally dropped all nine charges against Watson.

According to a federal awsuit that Watson filed against Boyd and the city last July, the officer approached him as he sat in his parked car and shouted, "Put your hand on the steering wheel! Do you know why I'm stopping you? Do you know why I pulled you over?" Boyd's command and questions struck Watson as strange, inasmuch as he had not been pulled over. He pointed that out to Boyd, who demanded his driver's license, proof of insurance, and Social Security number.

When Watson asked why Boyd needed that information, since he had no reason to think Watson had done anything wrong, Boyd suggested that Watson might be a pedophile, looking for victims at the park. When Boyd indicated that he planned to write Watson a ticket, Watson asked why, and Boyd replied, "I think your tint is too dark, and I can give you a ticket for that." Lest you get the wrong impression, I should clarify that Boyd, one of Ferguson's few black officers, was referring to the windows of Watson's car.

In addition to asking why he was being detained, Watson did several things that apparently irked Boyd. He offered to retrieve his driver's license from the rear seat but declined to give his Social Security number. He asked for Boyd's name and badge number (which Boyd refused to give). He picked up his phone and tried to call 911. He declined to toss his car keys out the window, worried about how Boyd, who at this point had taken out his gun, might respond if he again moved his hands from the steering wheel. He refused to consent to a search of his car.

After three other officers arrived at the scene, Boyd handcuffed Watson and took him to the police station. The car was towed, and according to the complaint Boyd repeatedly searched it without consent or probable cause. Watson had to pay a $700 bond to get out of jail. When he retrieved the vehicle, he says, his possessions were in disarray, and $2,000 (tuition money for his kids) was missing.

Watson initially faced seven charges, including driving without a license (which he had), driving without proper insurance (ditto), driving an unregistered car (the registration was in the vehicle), and driving a car with windows that were illegally tinted (which, according to the complaint, they weren't). Boyd even charged Watson, who was sitting in a parked car, with failure to wear a seat belt. After Watson tried to file a complaint with the police department about Boyd's behavior, the officer tacked on two more charges: making a false declaration and failing to comply with a police officer's order.

Boyd probably expected Watson to swallow his pride and pay his fines, but instead he fought the charges. The city dragged out the case for years, and as a result Watson lost the top-secret security clearance he needed to keep his job. "Without this clearance, Mr. Watson is unable to find employment in the highly specialized field of government cybersecurity," the lawsuit says. "As a result, he has remained jobless for most of the past five years and is now undertaking efforts to begin a new career."

By dropping the charges now, Ferguson Prosecuting Attorney Lee Clayton Goodman lends credibility to Watson's case against Boyd and the city, which accuses them of violating his rights under the Fourth, First, and 14th amendments. The New York Times says Goodman "declined to discuss the matter."

Last year the Times noted that as a St. Louis police officer, Boyd "pistol-whipped a 12-year-old girl in the face in 2006, and in 2007 struck a child in the face with his gun or handcuffs before falsifying a police report, according to Missouri Department of Public Safety Records." In addition to Watson's lawsuit, Boyd "is being sued by a woman in Ferguson who said he arrested her after she asked for his name at the scene of a traffic accident."