Mimesis Law
28 May 2017

Get the Popcorn Ma, They’re at it Again

Jan. 15, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Police officers have an interesting job to begin with, but sometimes you can’t top what idiots do to make it more interesting.

Portsmouth, Virginia is an “independent” city in the Norfolk area of Virginia. As an independent city, it is not part of a county and in this case is surrounded by other independent cities. Portsmouth has a unique law enforcement system, in that it has both a large, professional police force, and an elected sheriff. And this is where the problem comes into play.

Portsmouth is a council-manager form of government, where the city council hires a city manager and sets general policy. The mayor is the head of the city council, but really doesn’t have much executive power. The city manager hires and fires the department heads, like the chief of police.

However, Portsmouth also has an elected sheriff. The sheriff appears to be responsible for the jail, and little else, although from his website, it appears that he wants to do more.

You know, like the real police.

The current sheriff, Bill Watson, is an older white guy, probably in his late 60s (he graduated from high school in 1965). He got into law enforcement late, after retiring from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1990. His criminal apprehension unit, traffic unit, emergency response unit, and community enforcement unit have all been shut down by the city council—and Bill doesn’t seem happy about it since that fact is highlighted on the website.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, er, city council, the African-American mayor and one of the council members were getting into a tiff, and Mayor Kenneth Wright fined Council Member Bill Moody for talking about privileged attorney-client communications outside of a closed door meeting. Wright had the support of five of the seven council members. Well, it seems that Moody is one of Watson’s supporter, so Watson showed up at the next council meeting.

Wright is the same mayor that Watson had called a “habitual liar” last year over Watson’s refusal to transfer inmates to the more economical regional jail. That went well for Watson. The city council then cut a million dollars out of the sheriff’s budget, which led to the elimination of the aforementioned units.

In the budget cut debate, Moody supported Watson, going to the point of asking a state legislator to seek a state Attorney General’s opinion on the matter. So apparently in an effort to support Moody and possibly intimidate Wright, Watson showed up at the council meeting. With a news crew.

Once there, he found Mayor Wright’s car and determined that the inspection sticker was expired (for seven months), and then set up to wait until Wright drove the car and committed a traffic offense. Watson was ecstatic, saying:

“I’ll be the first one to admit, I got a woody when I saw that sticker on his car, I sure did…”

You know, like the real police.

So the sheriff then tried to confront the mayor. That didn’t go so well—Wright said “Get away from me, Sheriff” and drove off. So the sheriff started a high-speed pursuit wild chase followed the mayor with this unmarked car lit up like a Christmas tree and with the siren on.

You know, like the real police.

The other side of the story is that Wright didn’t trust Watson and feared for his safety, a not unreasonable fear given today’s environment between police and African-Americans. And a former white officer in Portsmouth has been indicted for murder in the shooting of an unarmed African-American at a local Walmart. Wright did stop as soon as city police showed up, which indicates there was some truth to his statements.

At that point, Watson wrote Wright a ticket for the inspection violation.

You know, like the real police.

And then Watson went back to his office, looked up the law, and charged Wright with felony evading, got a warrant, and had the mayor arrested.

You know, like the real police.

Well, maybe not. When I was on the street, I actually knew that I could arrest someone who refused to stop. I wouldn’t have in this case. I would have let him go and served him with a citation for the offense later. Why? Because I could identify the offender, because this isn’t about who has the bigger “woody” and because anytime you “chase” someone, bad things can happen. That’s what the real police do, sheriff. Not what you did.

In any event, ain’t local politics fun?

Hey ma! Get the popcorn—they’re at it again.

2 Comments on this post.

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  • Aaron
    15 January 2016 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    Oh, yeah. If that doesn’t get his budget restored, nothing will. I wonder if § 18.2-484 might be relevant here.

  • The Takeaway From The Year That Was
    10 January 2017 at 8:15 am - Reply

    […] Get the Popcorn Ma, we looked at Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson, who “chased” the mayor at low speeds and then […]