SF Author Peter Watts Found Guilty Of Felony "Resistance" Against Border Guard

A jury finished deliberating in the contentious Peter Watts case. The Canadian author of Blindsight was beaten by US border guards when returning home several months ago. The guards claim Watts assaulted them, and today a court found Watts guilty.

A brief story in the Times Herald says:

Toronto author Peter Watts has been found guilty of assaulting, resisting and obstructing a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. Jurors returned the verdict today in St. Clair County Circuit Judge James Adair's courtroom. He faces up to two years in prison when sentenced April 26. Watts, 52, was crossing the Blue Water Bridge on Dec. 8 when he was stopped for a random inspection after paying his toll on the American side. He refused to comply with orders during the inspection and had a physical altercation with Officer Andrew Beaudry. Beaudry testified earlier this week that Watts tried to choke him. Watts' trial started Tuesday. Jurors deliberated for 5 ½ hours Thursday before reaching a verdict this morning.

In their testimony, the officers said they pepper sprayed Watts, and had to "subdue" him after he refused to comply with their orders. They also accused him of trying to pull one of the officers into the car with him. Previous reports suggested there was video of the incident, but there is no mention of this in reports from the trial.

For his part, Watts continues to assert that he was beaten after he got out of his car and asked the officers why they were detaining him. This afternoon he posted about the verdict, confirming that it hinged NOT on the alleged "choking" incident, but instead his failure to "comply" with instructions - in other words, his verbal protests:

The press has frequently characterized the charge against me as "assaulting a federal officer". The alleged (and discredited) "choking" episode has been repeated ad nauseum. Here at the Sarnia Best Western I don't have the actual statute in front of me but it includes a lengthy grab-bag of actions, things like "assault", "resist", "impede", "threaten", "obstruct" - hell, "contradict" might be in there for all I know. And under "obstruct" is "failure to comply with a lawful order", and it's explicitly stated that violence on the part of the perp is not necessary for a conviction. Basically, everything from asking "Why?" right up to chain-saw attack falls under the same charge. And it's all a felony.

What constitutes "failure to comply with a lawful command" is open to interpretation. The Prosecution cited several moments within the melee which she claimed constituted "resisting", but by her own admission I wasn't charged with any of those things. I was charged only with resisting Beaudry, the guard I'd "choked". My passenger of that day put the lie to that claim in short order, and the Prosecution wasn't able to shake that. The Defense pointed out that I wasn't charged with anything regarding anyone else, and the Prosecution had to concede that too. So what it came down to, ultimately, was those moments after I was repeatedly struck in the face by Beaudry (an event not in dispute, incidentally). After Beaudry had finished whaling on me in the car, and stepped outside, and ordered me out of the vehicle; after I'd complied with that, and was standing motionless beside the car, and Beaudry told me to get on the ground - I just stood there, saying "What is the problem?", just before Beaudry maced me.

And that, said the Prosecutor in her final remarks - that, right there, was failure to comply. That was enough to convict.

I do not know what the jury said amongst themselves. But a question they sent out to the court yesterday afternoon - "Is failure to comply sufficient for conviction?" - strongly suggests that this was the lynchpin event.

Watts is known for his dark, literary SF novels - many are available online, under CC license - and for his work rescuing street cats in Toronto.