NBC 6 Investigators

Broward Veteran Arrested After Being Accused of Breaking Into His Own Car

He was arrested after being accused of breaking into his own car. Now he's taking legal action against the police department

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Air Force veteran Dwain Watts says he still has trouble using his hand since he was injured during an encounter with Hollywood Police officers in 2019. 

“When I thought he was going to handcuff me, he cupped his hand, his arm, behind mine, dragged me around the front of the truck and then body slammed me on the ground,” Watts said during an exclusive interview with NBC 6 Investigators.

“After I was on the ground, he deliberately kneed me in the back of my neck with such force that it really did some nerve damage on my neck,” he added. 

NBC 6 reviewed photos taken at the emergency room moments after Watts was arrested. They show bruises and cuts in one of his shoulders and a small cut in his head.

Medical records provided by Watts show he was treated at the VA for neck pain, numbness in his fingers, among other things. He also sought help for PTSD following the arrest. 

A surveillance video from a nearby business shows part of the arrest. But the video is grainy and has no sound. At the time, none of the officers was wearing body cameras. 

Watts says he didn’t know why he was stopped in the first place. 

'This Is My Car You’re Talking About'

The police report says someone called 911 reporting a “Black male, bald, wearing a gray shirt and white shorts breaking into cars.” It goes to say the caller “witnessed the arrestee walk up and down the street repeatedly till he entered a red BMW.”

The red BMW was parked in front of the house Watts had just moved from and several blocks away from where police stopped him. He says it was at the hospital where he found out why. 

“Another sergeant came in and that’s when they finally told me this is why you’re here and this is what happened because you're a suspect in breaking into a 2001 red BMW, and that’s when I sat up and said ‘you gotta be kidding me,’ because I told them ‘this is my car you’re talking about,’” Watts said. 

Hollywood Police wouldn’t tell us when they learned it was Watts’ vehicle but about one minute after Watts was in custody, records show the officer with the vehicle shared the license plate tag information with the dispatcher, who was in communication with the other officers. 

About 14 minutes later, Watts was taken to the hospital and then to the Broward County jail. 

“They decided to tell me that I resisted arrest without violence,” Watts said, when asked why he was taken into custody.

The arrest report says Watts moved his arms and “tensed,” resisting arrest. But Watts says that’s not what happened. 

“I complied with everything they wanted me to do,” Watts said. 

The charge was eventually dropped but before that, Watts spent a month behind bars.

'I Was Puzzled'

Watts is now suing the department, the city and the arresting officer, Robert Knapp, saying all of this could’ve been prevented. 

Attorney Joan Brown is representing Watts. 

“I was puzzled,” she said. “What was he resisting arrest for? You can’t arbitrarily arrest somebody because you choose to and then accuse me of a crime for not wanting to be arrested when I didn't commit a crime.” 

“I think this whole thing was botched from the beginning. I think they were just trying to cover it up, cover their tracks to show they are not at fault,” Watts said. 

Watts says officers need to be held accountable for what he went through that day and afterwards. 

“It’s totally humiliating because I endured quite a bit mentally and physically for their actions,” Watts said. 

NBC 6's Willard Shepard reports on Air Force veteran Dwain Watts who is suing Hollywood Police over an encounter with their officers in 2019.

Not the First Arrest

NBC 6 Investigators found this wasn’t the first time Watts was arrested by Officer Knapp. 

In 2015, Knapp arrested and charged Watts with battery while responding to a domestic dispute, according to Broward County court records. The charge was eventually dropped by prosecutors.

We asked the department about the previous arrest and they declined to comment citing pending litigation. But in a deposition with Watts’ attorney, Knapp said he "didn't recall dealing with him (Watts),” when he was asked about the 2015 arrest.  

Response from Hollywood Police 

Hollywood Police declined our request for an interview because of the ongoing lawsuit. But they did tell us none of the officers involved in Watts’ arrest were disciplined and all but one are still in the force.

A spokesperson said Watts never filed a formal complaint with the internal affairs’ department and the dispatch records we obtained only show “basic details of the officers’ interactions.”

NBC 6 requested the dispatch call through a public records request. We have not received it. 

Officer Knapp also declined our request for an interview through the department. But in a deposition with Watts’ attorney, he acknowledged his knee “was on his body” when they were on the ground. When asked where exactly, he said he didn’t recall.  He denied he dragged Watts on the ground and said he didn’t learn he was the owner of the BMW until he was transporting him to the hospital after he complained about his injuries. 

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