FBI agent ambushed in Canarsie remembers trying to save himself

"My world got small and I just started firing."

July 11, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Police swarmed a wash and detailing shop on Remsen Avenue after the shooting, where they found the vehicle that one of the suspects was driving with a blown out window and bullet holes. Eagle photos by Todd Maisel
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The FBI agent shot in the back in Canarsie while FaceTiming his wife in late 2018 was visibly upset on the stand Thursday as he recalled firing his gun at Ronell Watson, the man accused of ambushing and shooting him in a broad-daylight attack.

One day after he testified about being shot in the back during an undercover surveillance job, Special Agent Christopher Harper was back on the stand, as Watson’s defense attorney, Federal Defender lawyer Michelle Gelernt, grilled him about the shooting.

“I remember him being next to the driver’s side of the BMW. I just remember seeing his head and torso. My world got really small, and I just started firing at him,” Harper testified Thursday.

Watson is on trial before Judge William F. Kuntz for the attempted murder of a federal agent for the December 2018 shootout. On Thursday, Harper recalled seeing Watson drive his BMW M5 the wrong way down one-way Canarsie Road.

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“A car coming the wrong way down the road is remarkable,” he said when asked if he was suspicious of the vehicle approaching him.

Harper testified that the BMW pulled up in front of his car, as if to block him in. Though everything after Watson pulled up happened very quickly, that didn’t stop Harper from seeing the man who exited the car, he said.

“It was very quick, but I got a very, very good look at him,” Harper testified. The agent, who was a Philadelphia police officer before joining the FBI, had to pause during his testimony, and at one point looked near tears as he remembered the incident. He acknowledged under cross-examination that even testifying about the event was traumatizing.

Harper was FaceTiming his wife at the time of the shooting, and put his phone down in the center console as Watson approached his car, he testified.

“I didn’t end the call,” Harper said.

After he was shot, Harper drove down the road toward the intersection of Avenue N, where he got out of his car and returned fire, striking Watson in the hand. Harper admitted under cross-examination that he did not specifically see Watson shoot a gun at him.

According to prosecutors, Harper’s wife heard the gunshots on the FaceTime call. When he picked the phone back up, he told his wife to hang up and call 911, prosecutors said.

After Harper’s testimony, FBI Special Agent Michael Ercolano testified about executing a search warrant later that night at the address where Harper was performing surveillance before the shooting.

Watson lived in that home on Canarsie Road — though he was not the person Harper was surveilling for the FBI. Ercolano testified that he searched Watson’s bedroom and found a pistol holster, a gun-cleaning brush and lubricant used to clean a gun.

After he was arrested, Watson was interviewed by two FBI agents and told them he did not shoot at the agent, FBI Special Agent Jose Charriez testified Thursday under direct examination by U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard P. Donoghue.

“He stated he drove down the wrong way on Canarsie Road after a haircut … The vehicle began to drive away and he began to get shot at,” Charriez testified. “He said he didn’t have a gun or shoot.”

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