Indicted detectives had drawn praise
But Watson's past also offered hints of later troubles

By Andrew Wolfson
The Courier-Journal

Mark Watson & Christie Richardson
Early in his career, while an officer with the Atlanta Police Department, Watson survived a gunshot, was named ''Police Officer of the Year'' from among 1,500 officers and earned a half-dozen commendations in a span of two years.

His supervisor said he once jumped into a moving car, through the sun roof, to snare a suspect.

Richardson also earned high marks straight out of Eastern Kentucky University, as a fledgling officer in the Georgetown Police Department and later with the Jefferson County force.

''She was extremely honest and one of the most dedicated officers I've ever seen,'' said former Scott County Sheriff Mike Leaverton, to whom Richardson briefly was married. ''There is no way she would cross the line.''

But now, Watson and Richardson have resigned under a cloud, each facing hundreds of counts of burglary, theft, perjury and tampering with public records. The charges could send them to prison for as long as 70 years, if they are convicted -- and free some of the people whom they put behind bars.

Watson, 38, and Richardson, 34, have pleaded innocent to all the charges, including allegations that they forged judges' names on search warrants, entered residences with bogus warrants, and stole pay intended for informants.

Even before they quit the force Monday, prosecutors said the detectives' credibility had been so tarnished that the commonwealth was moving to dismiss cases against two dozen defendants whom they had investigated.

So how did two respected officers become involved in one of their department's greatest embarrassments? Both were top performers, which supervisors in Metro Narcotics say is one reason their alleged wrongdoing went undetected for so long. Watson especially ''was one of the ones you looked to because his numbers were exceptionally high,'' said Capt. Gene Sherrard.

But while a review of Richardson's record in Georgetown and Jefferson County shows no indication of the allegations to come, Watson's internal affairs files and other records reveal some harbingers of trouble.

The partners had a close relationship; personnel records show they attended a conference together in Orlando in 1999, and neighbors said they often spent time together at an apartment in Okolona that Richardson got for free in exchange for providing security in the complex. Both are married to others; Watson has four children.

Watson's co-counsel, Mark L. Miller, said neither he nor his client would comment for the story. Richardson's lawyer, Steve Schroering, said she denies any wrongdoing and the detectives had no relationship other than being partners and friends. Richardson declined to comment.

Schroering said that he offered to have Richardson cooperate with prosecutors, but that so far, they have expressed no interest. He declined to say if his client blames Watson for their plight.

Atlanta boss: Watson known as a hot dog

Despite his early accolades in Atlanta, Watson, in his two final years there, was investigated eight times by the Office of Professional Standards and reprimanded twice for failing to appear in court -- the same allegation that triggered the investigation in Jefferson County.

In one case, an investigator found Watson gave inconsistent statements about an arrest, indicating that ''he lied.''

His supervisor on Atlanta's Red Dog Unit -- the city's elite drug-fighting squad -- also said in an interview that Watson was deceitful and overzealous.

''He was known as a hot dog,'' said Sgt. Woodrow Tripp, who later commanded the unit and has since retired. ''I had to talk to him about exploits that put his partners in jeopardy.''

Tripp also said, ''It doesn't surprise me in the least that he was indicted. There was always a feeling about him that something was not right.''

On the Jefferson County force, there also were warning signs.

In 1996, a lieutenant caught Watson and a prior partner ''putting their names on alternate citations where there was only one defendant'' so that both detectives could get overtime court pay, according to department records. ''Both were instructed that the practice was not acceptable and was to cease immediately,'' the records show.

In 1997, an informant complained to the department's internal affairs division that Watson agreed to let her off with a citation for marijuana possession if she agreed to give him half of her next shipment. Jefferson County Police Detective Blaine French, who has since retired, said he urged his supervisors in Metro Narcotics to set up a sting on Watson, but they declined.

French said that if Watson had been more thoroughly investigated then, ''this current scandal would never have happened.'' The department says it is reviewing the case.

For Richardson, however, the record doesn't presage the allegations she faces now. She was exonerated on the only internal affairs complaint filed against her in Jefferson County -- that she was rude to a civilian.

Richardson was teamed with Watson in 1998, after she joined Metro Narcotics.

In January 1999, they gained permission to attend a five-day seminar together in Orlando, Fla. In identical applications to their superiors, they stated the class would help them ''develop proper informant skills and quality case preparation for improved courtroom performance.''

Neighbors said they were often present together at a unit in Tymberwood Trace Apartments that Richardson got for free in exchange for providing security for the complex just west of the Jefferson Mall. Apartments there rent for $395 to $485 a month.

''They introduced themselves by name and said they were police officers,'' said Robert Cain, who lives next door at 7501 Beechview Way.

Cain, who is retired from Vogt Machine Co., said the detectives showed up every week or two and sometimes spent three or four days there at a time. He said he assumed they were married to each other until the property manager told him they were not.

Property manager Kim Tipton declined to comment; Jennifer Higgins, regional manager for Brown Noltemeyer Management Co., which owns the complex, said only that Richardson was ''terminated'' and ordered to vacate the apartment after she was charged with breaking the law.

County police spokeswoman Officer Stacey Redmon said there are no indications that the detectives used the apartment for work-related purposes.

Redmon said it is not uncommon for officers to be given free apartments in exchange for the security presence they provide. Such deals are treated like other outside employment and must be approved by the chief, she said. Duties vary, depending on the property owner; some just want the deterrent value of having a police cruiser parked in their lot, she said.

Family's roots run deep in Bullitt

Mark Alan Watson hails from one of Pioneer Village's first and best-known families. Mayor Gary Hatcher said the Watsons lived there long before the northern Bullitt County city was incorporated in 1974.

Watson's father, Sam B. Watson, who died in 1997, was a retired maintenance worker at General Electric's Appliance Park, where he worked for 40 years. Watson's mother, Oneda, lives on the same street as Watson, his wife, Virginia, and their children.

At least two Watsons have served in local government, and Mark Watson coaches soccer and has other community ties, one of his lawyers, Mary Sharp, has said in court.

''They are pretty respected around here,'' Hatcher said.

Watson graduated from North Bullitt High School and occasionally attends Little Flock Baptist Church, said its pastor, the Rev. Ronald Shaver.

Don Tomlinson, who said he knows Watson from church and described him as a very close friend, said he strongly believes the former detective is innocent.

''He's a good Christian man, a good father and a good husband,'' said Tomlinson, who helped post Watson's bond. ''I believe him 100 percent.''

Watson's wife describes herself as a housewife in court papers, but Sharp said she recently had to take a thirdshift job at Wal-Mart to help the family make ends meet.

Watson's gross pay last year -- including court pay and other overtime -- was $68,375. He and his family live in a home on Pioneer Trail assessed at $89,632, although they recently bought another house, on the same street next door to Watson's mother, for $100,000.

Jefferson County personnel records state that before becoming a police officer, Watson served in the military as part of an Army special forces team, where he acquired ''working knowledge of electronic surveillance.''

After that, he wound up in Georgia, where his wife is from, and began working with the Atlanta police force.

On Sept. 3, 1989, a few days after his first anniversary with that department, Watson was shot near his heart in a blow that a supervisor said would have been fatal if he hadn't been wearing a bullet-proof vest. Watson was quoted in a newspaper then as saying it felt like ''getting kicked by a horse.''

In only his second year on the department, he was transferred to the hard-charging Red Dog Unit, Atlanta's front-line offensive against drugs.

During his tenure there, he was accused of using excessive force by four civilians, but none of the allegations was sustained.

Watson was ordered by that department to undergo counseling twice for missing court and once for giving inconsistent statements.

He joined the Jefferson County force in 1992 as a patrolman. The next year, then-Chief Leon Jones commended him for breaking up an indoor marijuana growing ring. In 1996, he won the department's third-highest honor, an exceptional merit award, and in 1997, after Watson seized a large cache of cocaine and cash, thenChief Ron Ricucci wrote him, ''Your professionalism and dedication reflect your commitment to the . . . citizens of Jefferson County.''

As recently as March 2000, Watson was recognized along with other members of the department's SWAT team for their ''diligence and discipline'' in responding to a double shooting in which the suspect was still at large.

Watson sought and won a transfer to Metro Narcotics three years after joining the department, saying in his request that ''narcotics is a field I have long had a passion in.''

Retired Capt. John Spellman, who headed the combined city-county drug squad, remembered Watson as an excellent producer. ''He was a hard worker who produced a lot of cases,'' Spellman said.

Richardson praised for her approach

Christie Diane Anderson was born in Georgia and grew up in Versailles, Ky. She graduated from Woodford County High School and decided to become a police officer at Eastern.

''She wanted to fight crime,'' said Leaverton, the former Scott County sheriff. ''She wanted to make a difference and be the best police officer she could.

''I know Christie very well and have nothing but the most respect for her,'' said Leaverton, who now teaches at the state Department of Criminal Justice Training in Richmond. ''I would trust her with my life.''

Richardson earned mostly high grades in basic training at the state Department of Criminal Justice Training in Richmond. She joined the Georgetown department in 1988 and married Leaverton in 1992, when he was Scott County sheriff. They were divorced in 1994.

Georgetown Capt. Bobby Gorham, who is now retired, remembered Richardson as fearless, aggressive and highly principled. She left that department in 1994 and took the Jefferson County job so she could make more money, Gorham said.

She later married a county officer, Mike Richardson, a veteran training officer, and moved into a Jeffersontown home he had purchased in 1994.

Mike Richardson, who is 18 years older than Christie Richardson and has since retired, posted cash and property for her bond, including the house in Jeffersontown, which is assessed at $228,940.

Christie Richardson worked as a patrol officer in Baker District for three years. During that time, she was commended by Ricucci for assisting a 16year-old girl who had a car accident; the girl turned out to be the daughter of then-Judge-Executive Dave Armstrong's chief administrative officer.

Supervisors also commended her for helping solve the robbery and abduction of a 90-year-old man and for recovering illegal drugs and money.

In April 1997, Richardson, who is certified as an advanced scuba diver, requested and won a transfer to the River Patrol Unit, saying her diving training and ''knowledge of boating would make me an excellent candidate.''

But two months later she asked to be assigned instead to Metro Narcotics, citing her work and training in that field in Georgetown.

After she tendered her resignation last week, Schroering, her lawyer, said Richardson no longer wants to be a police officer.

Former Jefferson County detectives Mark Watson and Christie Richardson have been charged with burglary, theft, perjury and tampering with public records.

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