Watts gets probation, $500 fine

Published 6:55 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Willis Cohoon Watts Jr., a former Aurora police chief, was sentenced to sentenced to 45 days in jail Tuesday, but that sentence was suspended and he was place on unsupervised probation for 18 months,

Minutes before being sentenced by Superior Court Judge Wayland J. Sermons Jr., Watts pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to discharge the duties of his office. In addition to being placed on probation, Watts was ordered to serve 50 hours of community service, surrender his certification as a law-enforcement officer, pay a $500 fine and court costs.

As part of the plea agreement reached with the district attorney’s office and accepted by Sermons, two charges of obstruction of justice were dismissed. Watts’ guilty pleas to failing to discharge the duties of his office were in lieu of two original charges of embezzlement.

Watts was represented by attorney Myron Hill of Greenville. Watts “cooperate fully” with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation during its investigation of the incident, Hill told the court.

Watts was arrested Sept. 21, 2012, by the Washington Police Department on charges of embezzlement.

The charges against Watts originated from the seizure of Browing rifle during an arrest by Aurora police in 2011. At that time, Watts was Aurora’s police chief.

According to a Beaufort County grand jury indictment, Watts presented a petition to dispose of the firearm to Sermons, and the seized rifle was subsequently forfeited to the police department. Watts then took the rifle to Mackey’s Landing Firearms in Jamesville and traded it for another firearm for his personal use, according Assistant District Attorney Mike Holloman.

“Mr. Watts, you certainly made a mistake. It may have been a mistake with paperwork. It went a little further than that in your personal use of this firearm. The district attorney has given you a break. I’ve sentenced you to what I consider a breach of the public trust,” Sermons said after pronouncing sentence.

The obstruction of justice charges stem from false statements Watt made on the petition to destroy the weapon and order that forfeited the weapon, according to the prosecution.

Officials with the Town of Aurora brought concerns about the incident to the district attorney’s office. The decision was made to contact the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.

On Sept. 17, 2012, a Beaufort County grand jury handed down true bills of indictment against Watts, charging him with two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of embezzlement by a state officer and one count of embezzlement.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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