Earnest Lee Watson III, a 26-year-old resident of 200 Knox Jones Road in Bunnell, was arrested on Thursday and charged in connection with a shooting on East Booe Street in Bunnell on Monday, and a gang link noted.
Reviewing surveillance video, Bunnell police determined that Watson, a convicted felon barred from owning or carrying guns, had carried and exhibited the gun near the time of the shooting, but he was not charged for actually firing the gun since police both did not have evidence he did so and no one willing to press charges to that effect. The witness who initially wanted him charged for firing the gun declined to do so after Watson apologized for the shooting, according to his arrest report.
The witness told Bunnell Police Sgt. Shane Groth in a sworn statement that Watson “had produced a firearm which resulted in a group of people fleeing for their safety.”
Bunnell police were able to reconstruct the events of Monday from a video collected from Tabernacle of Deliverance Ministries at 407 East Booe Street and from the witness’ account.
Watson had gone to a house across the street from Tabernacle of Deliverance Monday at 12:15 p.m. He was asked to leave because of an ongoing family dispute.
Moments later police noted from the video that a four-door Mazda drove north on South Moore Street and turned west onto E. Booe Street, blowing through a stop sign then onto the yard of Tabernacle before continuing west. It’s not clear from the report if and how the vehicle was connected to the incident that followed. Shortly afterward, Watson is seen on the video riding a bicycle west on Booe St. through the intersection with Cherry Street. He then bikes on to the front of the property of the Open Door Reentry and Recovery Ministry at 309 E. Booe, where he got off his bicycle and drew a black semiautomatic gun from his waistband.
“The handgun was concealed from ordinary/ plain view by [Watson’s] shirt and jacket,” the report states. A small bag drops to the ground as he dismounts from the bicycle. Police would later say that the bag contained 2.6 grams of pot. At that point Watson is seen manipulating the gun and raking its slide a couple of times before moving out of view into an alley between 309 East Booe and the Riverside Apartments at 301 East Booe.
Watson “faced back east while holding the handgun in a low ready position with his left hand,” the report continues, then “appears to reach to something by dropping his body weight, spinning around, and moving with alacrity into the alley way. [Watson] emerged from the alley way a few seconds later and walks back towards his bicycle,” still carrying the gun. Several minutes passed before the 911 dispatch center received a call about a shooting in the area.
Two shell casings with the headstamp of SIG 9MM LUGER” were recovered from the alleyway between 309 and 301 East Booe.
When he was 17, Watson was arrested and later convicted of a 2013 home-invasion robbery in Espanola he carried out with three others. He had turned himself in to confess (“I know I messed up and I know I did it,” he told sheriff’s investigators at the time.) The robbers had been seeking guns and pills. He was sentenced to three years in prison and three years on probation, a relatively light sentence in recognition of his juvenile status at the time of the offense, and his confession. But he ended up violating his probation soon after being released from his first stint in prison, and was sentenced again to prison. He was eventually released near the end of 2020.
His latest arrest report connects him with the criminal street gang “sex money murder,” or SMM. “Watson has also been observed wearing red which is a blood color repeatedly, including in this most recent incident,” the report states. “Watson was also observed attend[ing] an SMM meeting in the Carolinas in 2021, where a requisite of attendance is being current on monthly gang dues which at the time was $64.00 a month. At this meeting, Watson posed with numerous members of SMM from the ‘386’ area to include Volusia, Flagler, Putnam. St. Johns, and Lake County. As well as several high ranking members from across the country. In the photo Watson is observed dressed in black laying on the ground wearing a red hat and red shoes and displaying the SMM specific set hand sign in the photo. Watson has also been repeatedly observed in the company of other documented SMM members.”
Watson was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a second degree felony, and improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon, a misdemeanor. He is being held on $77,250 bond at the Flagler County jail. The felony count would typically be reduced, especially in a plea deal, but Watson’s recent past may complicate matters.