Cops raid the wrong house, shots are fired…You know where this is going, right? It’s another innocent person plugged by police officers who can’t read street addresses, or another sleepy homeowner charged with murder for shooting an intruder who happened to be a government employee with a bad sense of direction.
But this story has a happy-ish ending. Nobody was injured. And the man who fired at the late-night wrong-way raiders was ultimately cleared by jurors who thought the police behaved poorly.
Brandon remembers, “We ran upstairs very quickly … she saw guys in all black from right here in this window looking down.” Watson said he couldn’t immediately find his cell phone to call 911 so he ran downstairs with his firearm and stood at the foot of the stairs, shielded by a wall.
"I announced myself, ‘Who is that? Who is that? I have a gun.’ And as soon as I said that, two red laser beams were on my chest," Watson said. "so I looked at the red laser beams on my chest, and I fired a warning shot."
A single shot through a window, and then Watson ran to get help from his neighbor across the street, a Virginia State Police deputy.
As I came out of the house … they said, ‘stop,’ and I said, ‘Who?’ They then said, ‘Who just fired the shot out the back window?’ I said I did … and I was holding a gun, and they said, ‘put down the gun.’”
Watson dropped his handgun and said he received shocking news.
"They said, ‘we just got news you shot at an officer.’ I said, ‘An officer? Nobody came to my door. What do you mean an officer? I didn’t know there were any officers in my backyard,’" he told WAVY.com.
Then he learned the dark figures in his backyard were Portsmouth police officers who had not announced themselves.
Watson was charged with misdemeanor reckless handling of a firearm for the shot he fired, after a warning, at assailants who hadn’t identified themselves.
His first trial, before a judge ended in a guilty verdict. He appealed.
The second trial ended in a mistrial.
The third trial took place before a jury, which found Brandon Watson not guilty.
Jurors believed Watson showed restraint by firing one shot, and that police had no business raiding the wrong address (they counted down houses along the block rather than check number plates). They also thought the laser sight indicators on Watson’s chest proved the cops were full of shit when they claimed to have their weapons aimed at the ground.
"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," Barnes said. "You can’t be doing both at the same time, that’s contradictory."
WAVY asked Chief Hargis if a light could have gone into the window.
"Yes, but I don’t think it was there for any long period of time," he said.
We asked him if the red lights appearing on Watson’s chest were possible.
"It is possible, sure," he replied.
The incident could have ended a lot worse. Cory Maye, whose case was highlighted by Radley Balko in Reason, spent 10 years in prison for killing a police officer during a wrong house raid. Kathryn Johnston was among those killed for trying to defend their homes.
Watson essentially lost a year of his life. But he’s free. When cops screw up, it’s rare for the subject of the screwup to come out the other end so relatively unscathed.
Maybe public attitudes toward police raids are changing. Earlier this year, a Texas grand jury declined to indict Henry McGee who killed a police officer during a raid actually targeted at his house.