7 years after Ferguson DOJ report, lawsuit dismissed for Navy veteran who claimed wrongful arrest
St. Louis Post-Dispatch October 11, 2022
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Tribune News Service) — A man whose case was cited by the U.S. Department of Justice as an example of racial profiling and improper policing in Ferguson likely won't get compensation for an arrest he said violated his rights and cost him a job.
Fred Watson, a Navy veteran and former defense contractor, sued the city of Ferguson and Officer Eddie Boyd III in 2017, arguing Boyd illegally stopped Watson in 2012, searched his car, pointed a gun at him, unlawfully arrested him and filed bogus charges.
But U.S. District Judge Jean C. Hamilton last month ruled in favor of Ferguson and Boyd. She dismissed the case on Sept. 26, finding police did not violate Watson's constitutional rights because they had enough cause to make the traffic stop and arrest Watson.
Watson's case was featured, without being named, in a Justice Department report that blasted police in Ferguson after the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown for targeting Black residents, making unconstitutional stops and arrests and treating the city's police and court system like an ATM.
Watson's attorneys at the nonprofit firm ArchCity Defenders did not respond to a request for comment. The city of Ferguson and an attorney for Boyd also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Watson was stopped on Aug. 1, 2012, as he sat in his car, cooling off after playing pickup basketball at Forestwood Park in Ferguson. At the time, Watson made six figures working as a contractor for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. He'd saved up $58,000 for his first two years of law school.
That night, around 8:15 p.m., Boyd saw a car with "excessively tinted" windows and no front license plate idling in a parking space. When he walked up to the window, Boyd saw Watson wasn't wearing a seatbelt even though the car was on, according to court documents.
Boyd asked for Watson's license and registration, but Watson kept his hands on the steering wheel, he said, because he feared for his life. Watson gave Boyd a name and a previous address, but Boyd said he couldn't find him in a police database, according to court documents.
After some discussion, Watson said Boyd pulled out his gun and pointed it at him for about 10 seconds before reholstering it. Boyd denied pulling his weapon.
Boyd told Watson to throw his keys out the window, but Watson didn't comply, alleging the keys were in the back seat of the car and he was afraid to move. Boyd eventually called for backup, and other officers arrived. Watson got out of the car. Police searched the vehicle.
Watson was given seven tickets for infractions including having an excessively tinted windshield, not wearing a seatbelt, failing to register a vehicle and not having a proper inspection. He also was cited for making false statements for giving the name "Fred Watson" instead of "Freddie Watson," which was the name listed on his legal documentation, and failing to obey an officer.
Watson alleged in the suit and in interviews with the Post-Dispatch that the tickets caused him to lose his security clearance and therefore his job.
But a representative from the NGA testified in depositions that Watson would have had his clearance reinstated if he'd pleaded guilty and paid the fines. Instead, attorneys for Boyd and Ferguson wrote in a motion that Watson's clearance was suspended because Watson told an NGA personnel security officer, "What if I went out there and started telling the government's secrets on my time? Do you think they will go to court with me then?"
Watson filed suit in July 2017 claiming his civil rights had been violated. He told the Post-Dispatch he'd battled depression and was living out of storage units and sleeping in basements and the back seat of his car in Illinois.
All nine citations were dismissed, also in 2017. Ferguson prosecutors said they fell within guidelines set in the city's consent decree with the Justice Department over its targeting of African Americans.
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