Canarsie man who shot FBI agent found guilty of attempted murder

July 17, 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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A federal jury in Brooklyn found a Canarsie man guilty of attempted murder in the broad daylight December shooting of an FBI agent.

Ronell Watson was found guilty on all counts — of attempted murder of a federal officer, assault of a federal officer and discharging a weapon in furtherance of a crime — Wednesday morning, after the jury deliberated Monday afternoon and all through Tuesday in the weeklong trial in Brooklyn federal court.

On Dec. 8, 2018, Watson pulled up on Canarsie Road in his BMW going the wrong way down the one-way street and parked in front of FBI agent Christopher Harper’s Nissan Maxima. The agent was on a covert surveillance operation outside Watson’s house, though the operation had nothing to do with Watson.

Harper testified at the trial in front of District Judge William F. Kuntz that he found it “strange” that Watson drove the wrong way down the street, and that he thought Watson was “shady” when he got out of his car and started walking toward Harper.

The rookie agent, who started out as a Philly beat cop, was FaceTiming his wife at the time of the incident, and put his phone down to drive away from Watson. Watson shot twice at Harper, striking him in the back. The injured Harper stopped down the block and returned fire, blasting off 16 rounds at Watson and striking him once in the hand.

Harper’s wife also testified at the trial. She heard the shots fired over the FaceTime call and after returning fire Harper told her to call 911, which she did. Jurors were taken into the parking lot of Brooklyn federal court during the trial to inspect Harper and Watson’s bullet-ridden cars.

Police surround the vehicle at Kingsbrook Medical Center on Winthrop Street after the brother of a suspect drove him to the hospital with a gunshot wound.
Police surround the vehicle at Kingsbrook Medical Center on Winthrop Street after the brother of a suspect drove him to the hospital with a gunshot wound.

Defense attorneys for Watson argued that their client’s vision loss, due to glaucoma, made it appear to him that Harper was blocking his driveway. Michelle Gelernt, a lawyer with the Federal Defenders, argued in closings that when Harper drove away, Watson perceived the agent’s car as coming toward him. Thinking he was in danger, he shot at the agent’s car, Gelernt argued, calling the incident a “tragic misperception.”

“Video recordings unequivocally show that Ronell Watson shot Agent Harper in the back at close range without provocation,” said Richard P. Donoghue, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York during closing arguments in the case. “Although this case is very important, it’s frankly not that complicated.”

After the shooting, Watson drove to an auto-shop, where he ditched his car and caught a ride from a man named Hector Amissah to a hospital.

Amissah was sentenced Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court for a gun that cops found in his car as part of their investigation into the shooting. The gun, it was determined, was not the one used to shoot Harper, but Amissah was nonetheless charged as a felon in possession of a firearm.

District Judge Eric Vitaliano handed down a year-long sentence to Amissah, saying he tried his best not to consider Watson’s case when determining Amissah’s fate.

Vitaliano said he tried to put “blinders” up around the Watson case, but that it seemed likely that “Mr. Amissah was aware that Mr. Watson was up to some criminality,” when he decided to give the bleeding Watson a ride to the hospital.

“As found by the jury, FBI Special Agent Harper was performing his official duties last December when the defendant attempted to execute him without any warning,” said United States Attorney Richard P. Donoghue in a statement. “Despite sustaining life threatening injuries, Special Agent Harper performed courageously, returning fire and wounding the defendant, actions that led to Watson’s capture soon thereafter.”

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