When news of state Rep. Robert Watson’s arrest in East Haven, Conn., last Friday night was reported Sunday, it went viral, first in Connecticut and Rhode Island, then nationally. But here in East Greenwich, where Watson and most of his constituents live, is where the story comes home to roost. After all, voters here will decide in November 2012 whether or not to re-elect the long-term legislator.
Watson, a Republican, was arrested on charges of driving under the influence, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, after being stopped at a sobriety checkpoint by East Haven police.
When reached Thursday, Watson declined an interview.
“At this point, I’m going to make no further comment,” Watson said in a phone conversation Thursday. “I recognize I have a personal issue, a political issue and a legal issue.”
Asked if he would like to address his constituents, Watson said he would not comment beyond what he’d said to his colleagues in the General Assembly “until I’ve addressed the matter in the legal aspect.”
“I made a statement to my colleagues, and my constituents” on Tuesday, he said.
In that speech, House Minority Leader Watson acknowledged he had had “several drinks at dinner.” He denied, however, that he failed field sobriety tests. According to the police report, Watson did fail field sobriety tests. The report also described him as being glassy eyed and having slurred speech. At the police station after his arrest, his blood alcohol level was .05, below the legal limit of .08.
He called into question the treatment he received by the police in East Haven once they learned he was a legislator. “It seemed from that moment on, the whole dynamic changed,” he said Tuesday.
Watson acknowledged in the speech that he could have participated in the medical marijuana program, but that he had chosen not to. He said he had not smoked marijuana on the day of the arrest, but that he had smoked it on occasion to deal with pain from pancreatitis attacks he’d suffered starting last November.
“I’m not certain I want to participate in the medical marijuana program,” he told his colleagues, citing a concern that his privacy could be in jeopardy because of his public stature.
Watson voted no on the first medical marijuana bill that passed the General Assembly, in January 2006. That bill legalized marijuana for people with certain medical conditions. He voted yes to the bill that in 2009 that allowed for the establishment of marijuana drug dispensaries.
Many East Greenwich residents who were asked to comment on Watson’s arrest declined to make a public statement, including Town Council president Michael Isaacs, School Committee Chairwoman Deidre Gifford, School Committeeman David Green and Superintendent Victor Mercurio. Town Manager Bill Sequino and Police Chief Tom Coyle did not return phone calls.
Others were more willing.
“I just think it’s important that we don’t be too quick to judge him,” said resident and real estate agent Allen Gammons. “Bob’s done an awful lot for our community and he’s a friend and I’d like to see that he has his chance to explain himself.”
“I want to hear all the details first. He’s entitled to due process,” said Marie Schaller, a resident and owner of the Chocolate Delicacy with her husband, Dave. But, she added, “I’m really against driving impaired.”
“If it was my kid, I’d be angry and disappointed in his judgment,” said Dave Schaller.
“It’s fine with me if people use marijuana medicinally,” said Janet Joyce, a resident and the longtime head of the Barbara M. Tufts Cooperative Preschool. “I know he’s been in the hospital really sick. I guess it’s always nice if they have a prescription for it. I do have friends where it’s the only thing that helps.” But, she added, “I think that he should get that prescribed.”
“I think our politicians should hold themselves to a higher standard,” said town substance abuse coordinator Bob Houghtaling.
“It brings up a whole bunch of issues as his story comes out. It brings up the whole medical marijuana use,” he said. “I think kids get so many ambivalent messages.… We the adults send so many mixed messages. We have to really come out and be clear about what our standards are.”
Watson said Thursday he will be at the Town Council meeting on Monday in which EG state legislators are scheduled to discuss State House issues with the council. He is due to appear in court in East Haven on Wednesday, May 11, on the arrest charges.
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