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Location: Sitting inside a TV truck, Somewhere, more then likely in the Southeastern region, United States

I am a grouchy, bald headed old fart filled with opinions and not the least bit shy about sharing them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Peter Watts Trial - Day One

Port Huron, MI - The majority of today went toward jury selection. Another hour went toward instructing that jury in what their duties are, the rules about discussing the trial with anyone, reading about it or listening to news reports. The judge detailed the elements of the law Peter Watts is charged with breaking. He told the jurors that Watts actions must meet the elements of the law beyond a reasonable doubt.

During the opening statements and questioning of one prosecution witness, the sequence of events leading to Watts' arrest came into sharp focus. Much of the earlier information was very sketchy and painted a different picture from the facts.

One of the things numerous people mentioned after hearing about Watts arrest is there is no customs check point on the outbound Blue Water Bridge. Several expressed doubt that he was actually stopped by border patrol. Others thought he must have been stopped somewhere in town by a roving patrol. It turns out that the border patrol, now known as US Customs and Border Protection, conducts occasional  "outbound operations" on the bridge. When these operations are going on, random vehicles are waved over to the side of the road just past the toll booths for inspection.

It turns out that Watts was flagged over because the rental car he drove had Washington plates. The Blue Water Bridge does not get a great deal of traffic from Washington state, so that made Watts' car stand out in the crowd. That testimony kills off speculation by myself and others that the mere fact that it is a rental car drew the attention.

During his opening statement, Watts' attorney, Douglas R. Mullkoff, stated for the record his version of Watts' initial contact border patrol officer Julie Behranz. He said that Behranz waved Watts over for the initial stop and check. Watts waved back and drove on until his passenger mentioned that he thought she wanted him to stop. Behranz later testified that Watts went "another 30 feet" before stopping.

According to Mullkoff, when Behranz first talked to Watts, she said, "I wasn't waving hello, I was waving for you to stop."

Millkoff then stated that Watts replied, "Well I guess I'm still on the American side. In Canada that means hello." Mullkoff added that is something Watts now wishes he had not said. Behranz testified that Watts appeared "agitated" from the first contact. 

Behranz said that border patrol officers began a search of Watts' car. They opened the trunk and looked in the back seats. One of the officers opened Watts back pack holding his computer and said something about it. At that point Watts got out of the car and asked what the officer was doing with his computer. During opening statements, Mullkoff stated the importance of that computer to Watts. He said it contains notes, several chapters of a new book, etc.

Behranz testified she ordered Watts back into the car. She said that Watts did not comply, instead standing there with his hands firmly gripping the open car doors. She said that Watts repeated his question making no move to get back in the car. At that point Berhanz stated she decided to cuff Watts and ordered him to step away from the car. She said that Watts took neither action and continued standing there.

Behranz testified at that point Officer Beaudry came over to assist. During her testimony she said that Beaudry was their defense instructor and the other officers gave him room. She said that Beaudry and Watts "tussled" and both of them ended up back in the driver's seat of the car, Beaudry in Watts' lap.

During the prosecution's opening statement, the prosecutor stated it was at this point that Watts choked Beaudry. She said that Watts' had a grip on Beaudry's uniform collar.

During further testimony, Behranz stated that somehow Beaudry and Watts exited the car with Watts assuming an "aggressive stance." She described that stance as "bladed" and clarified that to mean standing at and angle giving a better advantage to strike from. Behranz said that Beaudry ordered Watts to ground several times.

Behranz said at this point Beaudry used his "C-Spray." Watts did not go down and continued standing there, only moving to wipe his eyes clear. She said that Beaudry then pulled his baton and again ordered Watts to the ground. At that point she states Watts did drop to a sitting position and then after more commands, a prone position where he was cuffed. She testified that Beaudry did not strike with the baton.

According the testimony today, during this entire event, the passenger in Dr. Watts' car did nothing but sit there.

Behranz later testified that EMS was called and did examine Watts.

Only one witness was heard today. Both sides wrapped up with her around 4:00 p.m. and the judge recessed the court room until 9:00 a.m. Wednesday.

Journalist Mode OFF - Editorial Mode ON: Everything from here on down are my own thoughts.

During his opening remarks, Mullfoff carefully pointed out that all the reports on the incident were very much alike. He flat out said he felt they were too close in nature and were contrived. I have not seen the reports so cannot weigh in on that statement. But I can tell you that all the officers on scene were at the same event. They are trained to take mental notes as things unfold. To me it makes sense their reports would be similar in nature. I would find more problem if they they were all different.

There is a video tape. It was not shown today, but both sides alluded to it. Mullkoff stated that if the prosecution did not introduce it, he would. Watts himself told me the tape is not very good, that he was but a "few pixels" in the frame. And here I thought we'd spent millions putting cameras all over the border.

I like Peter Watts. I talked with him several times. He seems like a really decent sort. I really hope he comes out of this more or less unscathed. I also understand the need for local, state and federal officers to do their jobs in such a way that won't get them injured or killed. And the law states that you must follow officer instructions during a border search. This is for the safety of everyone, officers and those being stopped.

I won't be able to see the entire trial. It was only by a good twist of fate that I managed to make it up here today. It is doubtful the jury will get it before Thursday based on the detail the defense is going into while dissecting the prosecution witnesses. I may catch an hour or two in the morning. But that is it.

That prohibits me from seeing any of the defense. Under these circumstances I will not speculate as to Watts' guilt or innocence in this matter. Nor will I speculate as to whether or not officer Beaudry over reacted as Mullkoff so firmly declared in his opening statement. That privilege is now left to the jury.

Oh, one other thing. No sign of Cory Doctorow or any of the rest of all those people that so freely played with Watts' life while trying to make him a martyr to the cause. Are they afraid of the courthouse?

Fortunately, he does have a couple people there supporting him. A few more would be nice if you are in the area and don't have anything better to do.


How many different ways can you ask her that question?
- Me, thinking to myself in court today.

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