Local News

Sebring police honors one of its own

- When Russell Morris began serving as a part-time Sebring police officer in the early 1980s, he arrived at a scene and an officer asked him why he didn't have a badge.

Morris told the officer, Charles Watson, that he had not been issued a badge and did not know when he would receive one.

Many years later, Morris, who is now a lieutenant, recalled that Watson gave him his badge.

That badge is expected to be part of a memorial at the Sebring Police Station for Watson, who died of a heart attack at the age of 59 on April 19, 1984.

Hired by Sebring police on Dec. 23, 1968, Watson was the first black police officer in Sebring and one of the first black law enforcement officers in Highlands County.

Sebring Police Chief Thomas Dettman said he and his administrative assistant, Vicki Hicks, looked through photos and other items donated by the widow of former Police Chief Lonnie Curl and saw a newspaper article about Watson's death. Until he saw the article, he said, he didn't realize that Watson had died while on duty.

Now, he would like to see Watson's name placed on the Florida Law Enforcement Memorial wall in Tallahassee.

"We're going to try our very best to make that happen," Dettman said.

At the time of Watson's death, he received high praise for his ability to solve crimes, diffuse racial tensions and deal well with the general public.

The newspaper article quoted Curl, who had hired Watson, as saying: "He was the best police officer in Highlands County. He was the most dedicated officer I ever knew, and I know a lot of them."

At the time of his death, Watson, who had been the officer of the year in 1979, was in line to become police chief to replace Craig Graybill, who was scheduled to retire a month later.

Over the years, the number of black police officers has fluctuated. Currently, Sebring Police Department has one black police officer, Sean Bueford, who was named officer of the year for 2013.

Watson had four sons, Donald, Charles, Raymond and Calvin and three daughters, Gail, Rhonda and Deborah, who died in 2012.

Gail Watson, Raymond Watson and Charles Watson visited the police station to hear about the memorial plans. Dominic Watson, a grandson, also attended.

Raymond Watson and his siblings recalled that their father was a family man who instilled values in his children.

"He loved to help people," he said.

Gail Watson said that during a time when she worked in the Fort Pierce area, several men recalled being helped by her father.

One man told her her father was instrumental in him moving in a new direction and avoiding prison, she said.

Charles Watson, who now lives near Tampa, said his father inspired him to become a police officer. He worked 10 years in Savannah, Ga., mostly as a police officer for the Savannah Police Department.

He said his father was known for resolving disputes and quieting situations without having to use a gun. He said he followed his father.

"You can talk people out of a lot of things," he said.


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