Dwight W. Watson, the tobacco farmer whose protest at Constitution Gardens led to a tense two-day standoff with police last week, disrupted a detention hearing yesterday when he began yelling at a U.S. Park Police detective who was testifying in federal court.
Watson sat quietly through several minutes of questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Bratt, but he jumped up from his chair about 2:40 p.m. when Detective Todd Reid began talking about how workers and businesses suffered because of the standoff.
"Big deal!" Watson shouted. "You put us out of business!"
Last week, during the 47-hour standoff, Watson warned police that he had explosives. The police shut down major thoroughfares, a move that snarled rush-hour traffic. Watson has said he was protesting government tobacco policies that had ruined his family's once-sprawling farm in Whitakers, N.C.
After yesterday's outburst, U.S. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola immediately summoned more federal marshals. Reid jumped down from the witness stand, and he and another officer grabbed Watson, who was not wearing restraints. The officers scuffled with Watson as they tried to remove him from the courtroom, and he continued to yell.
"I'm going to win this thing before it's over," Watson shouted. "I'm not a terrorist. I'm a freedom fighter. You brought the American farmer to our knees."
During the 20 seconds or so it took to get Watson out of the courtroom, he also yelled that he wanted to act as his own attorney. At one point, he called out to his cousin, Van "Skip" Watson, "Skip, they won't take me back to Whitakers."
Watson, 50, is charged with making threats regarding an explosive, a federal offense that has a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. After driving his tractor into a shallow pool at Constitution Gardens on the Mall on March 17, Watson told police that the tractor and its trailer, also in the water, were loaded with fertilizer-based explosives. He surrendered March 19 without incident. There were no explosives.
Law enforcement sources have said that they had contingency plans during the standoff that included shooting Watson if he tried to drive his tractor toward Constitution Avenue NW but that supervisors on the scene never came close to ordering snipers to fire.
Within minutes of Watson's outburst yesterday, Facciola returned to the bench and told attorneys that he intended to finish the detention hearing. He told Watson's attorney, Bravitt C. Manley, to go to the cellblock where Watson was being held, talk to him, and give him a chance to "cool off." Facciola asked about Watson's desire to act as his own attorney, and Manley said he was willing to represent Watson so long as Watson wanted him.
Manley took the police chief and a minister from Whitakers, both in Washington for the hearing, to talk to Watson.
Outside the courtroom, Reid said the incident "didn't surprise me." He said that during a hearing Thursday, Watson stood up and repeatedly asked Facciola: "Can I ask you a question? Can I ask you a question?"
Last week, Watson was found competent to stand trial after he was evaluated by a clinical psychologist.
By 3:30 p.m. yesterday, the hearing reopened, this time without Watson. Reid told the court that Watson caused $27,000 in damage to the island in the middle of the pond. Manley did not put on any witnesses and did not contest the prosecutor's request that Watson remain in custody.
Facciola ruled that there was probable cause that Watson committed the crimes alleged and ordered him held without bond.
Staff writer David A. Fahrenthold contributed to this report.