Recently, a Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Chris Watson and his wife, Bonita, returned from a weekend out of town to find a terrible surprise. The Watson’s home had been burglarized and set on fire. Among the missing items were bulletproof vests, firearms, ammunition, badges, and other official law enforcement equipment. The thieves had also taken jewelry and electronics. The burglars also stole Watson’s blue 2005 Chevy Avalanche. Watson’s unmarked patrol unit had been vandalized and spray painted with the words:”You can get one, but you can’t get them all (expletive).”
According to official reports, the fire had originated in the master bedroom. Three of the bedrooms had been doused with gasoline and ignited. Though the home was not completely destroyed, it did sustain extensive damage. “We were actually kind of lucky,” Watson said. “The vandals shut the doors behind them, and the flames smothered out due to lack of oxygen. It could have been much, much worse.”
Initially, investigators believed that Watson and his wife had been targeted personally, because Watson is a deputy and his wife is a probation officer. Because of the vandalism to the patrol car, it was believed to be perpetrated by a local “set” called “Uptown”, or “UPT”. Investigators with Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement made the case a priority. According to Santa Rosa Public Information Officer Sergeant Scott Haines, it was a public safety issue because the vandals were armed, and in possession of badges and body armor.
An APB was issued for anyone driving a blue 2005 Chevy Avalanche resembling Watson’s missing personal vehicle. The abandoned truck was discovered on April 24 at Scenic Bluffs in a neighboring county. Santa Rosa County Crime Stoppers offered a $5,000 cash award for information leading to the arrest of the individuals who were involved in the crime. The Sheriff’s Office heightened patrol and surveillance in Watson’s neighborhood and in other law enforcement officer’s neighborhoods.
In spite of their diligent work, the Sheriff’s Office was criticized by the media because the news of the burglary was not officially announced for a week and a half. On May 7, the Sheriff’s Office announced that arrests had been made in the case. According to Sgt. Haines, the “break” in the case came on May 4 from an anonymous tip from Crime Stoppers that lead to the arrest of Everly Scott Lippwe, 21, of Pensacola and Joseph Bradley Cameron, 21, of Milton.
According to Sgt. Haines, Lippwe is a friend of the Watson’s adult child who resides in the home. Lippwe confessed to the theft and disposal of the jewelry, firearms, and body armor.
Watson had no idea of his adult child’s association with Lippwe and Cameron. He described the crime as a “crime of opportunity”, rather than a personal attack against him and his wife.
Upon being interviewed by investigators, Cameron gave a detailed confession including that he and Lippwe had used information gleaned from their association with Watson’s child to plan and to commit the crime, including the details regarding when the family would be out of town. He also confessed to the location and disposal of some of the stolen items. He is being held at the Santa Rosa County Jail on a Violation of Probation with no bond. Charges are pending in regard to the crimes committed against the Watson’s.
Lippwe was charged with numerous felonies, including: Arson, Felony Criminal Mischief, Armed Burglary, Grand Theft, Theft of law Enforcement Equipment, Grand Theft of a Firearm, and Grand Theft Auto. Investigators have recovered some of the stolen property and have traced it to Cameron and Lippwe. The case remains open, and more arrests may be pending for the disposal of items taken from the Watson’s home.
For almost 21 years, Lt. Watson has served the residents of Santa Rosa County with pride and distinction. He started his career at the County Jail. He transferred to patrol and worked as a DARE officer, Patrol Supervisor, Property Crimes Investigations, Internal Affairs, and Narcotics. He is a DEA Certified Narcotics Specialist and he distinguished himself as part of a specialized unit that investigated clandestine methamphetamine labs in Santa Rosa County.
The crimes committed against the Watsons have ignited feelings of outrage, since Lt. Watson and his wife are highly respected by LEO’sand citizens alike. The community has united in support of the Watson family. A family skate night was organized on May 8, to help with Watsons pay for the extensive repairs needed for their house, which is inhabitable at the present time.
Deputy Robert Holster, who worked with Lieutenant Watson in the Property Crimes Unit, said, Lt. Watson is the best supervisor I have ever worked for, and I would gladly work for him again.”
Watson has stated that he and his family are very grateful for the outpouring of love and support that they have received. He said that he appreciates the investigators and Crimestoppers for their excellent work in bringing the offenders to justice. He offered the following advice, in hopes that it will prevent others from experiencing the same fate.
“First, make sure that your weapons are secured,” he said. “A gun safe is a wise investment, and so is an alarm system. We didn’t really think we needed an alarm, since we live out in the country and everyone knows one another. Perhaps if we had installed an alarm, this could have been prevented. Also, closely monitor your child’s friends, their Facebook page, and their correspondence. Make sure that you and your family do not post on your Facebook page when you will be out of town.”“Also, keep in mind that ‘exemption from public disclosure’ isn’t absolute. I know of incidents in which criminals have found officer’s personal items on the Property Appraiser’s website.”