A college student who got in a dispute with police officers over his right to “open carry” nearly two years ago was convicted Thursday in Clark County District Court of unlawfully carrying a weapon.
An attorney for Joshua R. Watson, 23, unsuccessfully argued to a jury of four men and two women that Watson was merely exercising his constitutional right to bear arms.
The jurors sided with an assistant Vancouver city attorney, who argued that Watson flaunted his right to carry, forced a business to close early and in the process broke the law.
Watson was cited Dec. 26, 2008, by Sgt. Jay Alie of the Vancouver Police Department.
Another open-carry defendant, Kurk Kirby of Vancouver, had been scheduled to go to trial today in District Court for unlawfully carrying a handgun at a local Albertsons.
His trial has been pushed back to Oct. 28.
Kirby was cited March 19 for carrying the handgun because prosecutors said he was displaying it in a way that “warranted alarm” or “manifested an intent to intimidate.”
Witnesses, including two men who have concealed weapons permits, told police Kirby looked like “Wyatt Earp, ready to draw.” Witnesses also said he was “giving everyone the eyeball with his hand on the gun,” according to police reports. Kirby, who has a concealed weapons permit, told responding officers that he was within his rights to carry the gun openly.
In Watson’s case, the only witnesses were police officers and employees of Round Table Pizza in Cascade Park, who felt so uneasy about Watson that they closed early.
Watson, a senior at Eastern Washington University and a 2005 graduate of Hudson’s Bay High School, said Thursday he will appeal his misdemeanor conviction to Superior Court.
Watson, who stays with his parents in Camas when he’s home from school, said he couldn’t comment on his case and that he expects to return soon to school, where he’s studying therapeutic recreation.
His trial began Wednesday and included testimony from Alie and three other VPD officers.
Judge Vernon Schreiber said Thursday that the jury deliberated approximately 90 minutes Thursday before unanimously deciding to convict Watson, who has no prior criminal record.
Schreiber said he sentenced Watson to spend five days in the Clark County Jail (the sentence can be served during Watson’s winter vacation) and 10 days of community service, which can be performed in Cheney.
So what happened on that dark and snowy night?
Three on-duty officers from the Vancouver Police Department had just finished taking a dinner break at Round Table Pizza on Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard.
It was approximately 10 p.m., and nearby businesses were closed.
Snow on the roads meant not many people were out.
The employees at Round Table were skittish because the restaurant had been the target of a robbery attempt four days earlier, said assistant city attorney Darren DeFrance, who prosecuted Watson and will also handle Kirby’s trial.
The officers, who had been the only customers, walked outside and noticed a young man wearing a winter jacket with one side raised up and tucked behind his pistol, which he was wearing on one hip.
DeFrance said Officer James Burgara asked the man if he knew his gun was showing. The young man, whom Burgara would later learn was Watson, told Burgara that it was his right to carry his gun.
Watson, who had told officers he initially wanted to go to a store in the strip mall that was closed and was now waiting to meet a friend, had his identification and concealed weapons permit with him.
Burgara explained to Watson that it wasn’t the smartest idea to be hanging out in an otherwise empty parking lot and that the Round Table employees, whom Burgara had spoken with, were uneasy about Watson’s gun because of the recent attempted robbery.
Watson asked to speak to Burgara’s supervisor, according to court documents. Burgara, who was with Officers Mike Gralton and Rodrigo Osorio, called Sgt. Alie.
Meanwhile, Watson called 911 and said he was being harassed by police and he wanted to stay on the phone with a dispatcher until the sergeant arrived.
Alie wrote in his police report that he spent nearly an hour talking to Watson, trying to convince him to conceal his weapon and leave.
“Watson did not want to listen to anything I had to say,” Alie wrote. “He repeatedly tried to speak over me, saying I did not know the law and that he was going to consult with someone who did.”
Alie eventually cited Watson, writing on the citation that, “Watson did, under circumstances that warranted alarm for the safety of others, carry and display a firearm.”
Alie seized the weapon as evidence.
Judge Schreiber said he ordered Watson to forfeit the gun.
If his conviction stands, Watson will lose his right to carry a concealed weapon, DeFrance said.
DeFrance said he and defense attorney Beau Harlan asked potential jurors extensively about their feelings toward firearms and related laws.
Of the pool of 12 people that was narrowed down to the final six, 11 people were gun owners, DeFrance said.