Fleeing a Stalker in Uniform: The Sherri Watson Story
William Norman Grigg
Chad Black professes to be terrified by Sherri Watson, his neighbor in Genola, Utah. A June 2011 stalking petition filed by Black claims that he considers the 48-year-old mother to be a threat and observes that “Sheriff deputies advised me to avoid” Mrs. Watson “at all costs.”
Why, then, did this supposedly intimidated man park in directly in front of the driveway to the Watson family’s home on March 29 of this year, after repeatedly driving slowly past their property? If he has been ordered – for his “protection” – to avoid any potential contact with Mrs. Watson, why does Black make a point of driving past her home practically every day?
Black’s house is about a third of a mile from Watson’s home, and it is located right next to an access road leading to the highway he uses to go to work. Black’s visits to the Watson home are not incidental occurrences; each of them is a deliberate act intended to taunt and intimidate a woman who neither harmed nor threatened him in any way.
Chad Black is employed as a police officer by the city of Orem, Utah. He is also a reserve officer with the Santaquin Police Department, which has a contract to provide “services” for Genola. For about five years, Black – with the aid of his comrades in the Santaquin PD – has waged a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and violence against Sherri Watson and her family. The abuse suffered by the Watson family became so acute that former Genola Mayor Danny Throckmorton threatened to cancel his city’s contract with the Santaquin PD. On the following day, Throckmorton’s barn burned to the ground in suspicious circumstances that strongly suggested arson.
After five years of unremitting conflict, stress, and anxiety, Sherri and her family are fleeing Genola, abandoning a beautiful house built by Sherri’s father. Although they are reluctant to leave a home that they love in one of central Utah’s most scenic locations, Sherri and her husband Tom are convinced that this is necessary.
“If we stay here,” Sherri told me during an interview in her dining room, “I think physical harm is going to be done to me or to our kids. I’m literally afraid that we might get killed.”
The woman who terrifies Officer Black: Sherri with her dog, Shiloh.
Neither Sherri nor Tom has ever been charged with, let alone convicted of, a violent crime. Unlike their straitlaced Mormon neighbors, the Watsons openly enjoy an occasional adult libation, and Sherri’s taste in music runs to 1980s hair metal rather than contemporary country. Sherri’s 40th birthday party in 2005 – which, in her words, “involved a band and a keg” -- ran a bit late into the night, prompting their first encounter with Black.
“He came over at about 2:00 a.m. and told us he was just coming home from work and could barely hear an echo of the music,” recalled Sherri. “He told us that nobody had called to complain, but that he could hear the music and wanted us to turn it down, which we did. What he told us at the time was that `You can have your music as loud as you want after 6:00 PM until 10:00 at night, and nobody can do anything about it.’”
The Watsons acted on that advice, adjusted their recreational habits, and avoided any further involvement with Black until 2009.
In Janury 2009, “I was walking my older son to the bus on a nearby intersection where two kids had been run over just a week earlier,” Sherri told me. “I saw white truck coming east that was being driven well in excess of the speed limit. I was worried about [my son], but also about other kids who were waiting for the bus. All I could think of was the kids who had been killed there just a few days before. I yelled at the driver and motioned to him to slow down, but he seemed to speed up and swerve in my direction.” The driver slammed on the brakes, then backed up and approached Sherri, who – in alarm – told her son to jump into a nearby canal. Sherri recalled that she was angry and anxious, and expressed herself in pungent terms, punctuated with a familiar gesture involving an upraised digit.
Officer John Savage with his wife.
The driver of the vehicle was John Savage, who at the time was employed as a fireman with the Orem Department of Public Safety. Savage sanctimoniously reproached Sherri for the “horrible” example she had set for her child.
“Two kids just got killed – my son is in the canal, and you want to tell me I'm horrible?” Sherri replied.
Sherri contacted the chief of the Orem Fire Department to report the incident, and at his request wrote a letter for an official inquiry.
“Savage’s boss told me that he had a good discussion with him, and that there would be no more problems with public safety,” Sherri said. “Then his wife paid us a visit and brought us some cookies and apologized, which was a wonderful thing to do. I told her, `This is the end of it – I’ll never mention this again.’”
Within a few weeks, Sherri inexplicably started having difficulty with Chad Black.
“I would play my music in our garage while working outdoors,” Sherri points out. “Black had told us that there wasn’t any problem with the volume, but starting in the Spring of 2009 we began having trouble with him over my music. He would come to our house and claim that he could hear my music while on the road near his house and that we had to turn it down. Then other Santaquin officers would show up to say that neighbors were complaining.”
Sherri would later be told by her next-door neighbors that they had never called to complain about the noise.
The problem, Sherri contends, wasn’t her music. It was the fact that “Chad Black and John Savage are buddies.” After receiving a reprimand as a fireman, Savage joined the Orem Police Department. Either Savage, or Black, or both of them, apparently decided to make life miserable for an uppity Mundane.
In June 2009, Sherri was arrested on charges of “lewd conduct” – for dancing, fully clothed, in her garage during mid-day hours; “public intoxication” – for drinking beer on her own property; and two counts of “disorderly conduct” – one of which was issued to punish her for telling a Santaquin Police Officer that Black is a “corrupt cop.”
Following the arrest, Black immediately contacted Sherri’s supervisors at the Nebo School District to inform them of the charges against her. As a result, she was immediately fired from her job as a lunch lady at the school attended by her sons, Conner and Cody.
Former Genola Mayor Danny Throckmorton is in the middle.
The Watsons appealed to Mayor Throckmorton, who intervened on their behalf at the district court in Santaquin. It took nearly two years, but Sherri was fully vindicated on May 6, 2011 when all of the charges were dismissed “in the interests of justice.”
At around this time, Black began stalking – no other word is appropriate – Sherri Watson in her home.
“The day before I went to court, I called to find out what time my hearing, and we were told that Mayor Throckmorton was trying to get them to drop all the charges,” Sherri reflects. “We had complained to him, and he stood up for us and did an investigation. The next day Chad Black showed up in his Orem police car, passed by my house at a crawl, did a U-turn, and sat near the house just watching us.”
“I started to complain about him,” Sherri continues. “The Mayor and the police told me I could videotape his actions to document harassment. Because he was employed full-time by the Orem and part-time as a reserve in Santaquin, the Utah County Sheriff got involved in the matter. The Sheriff’s Office told me that every time I saw Black I should call them.”
Accordingly, “I began videotaping every incident,” Sherri told me. “During one of Black’s drive-by visits, I videotaped him from our property. Ten minutes later, all of his kids came walking down to my home, and I videotaped them, as well.”
Drussel (center) named "Officer of the Year."
On May 27, 2011, both Sherri and Officer Black called the Sheriff’s office to file harassment complaints. In response, several Santaquin cops pulled up to the Watsons’ house and demanded to speak with Sherri. One of them, Officer Matt Drussel, “told me I had one hour to fill out a `voluntary’ statement or they were going to invade my home,” Sherri recalled to me.
Weary of the abuse and persecution his wife was enduring, Tom Watson greeted the officers at the front door wearing a holstered gun. The family placed an urgent call to Mayor Throckmorton, who, Sherri testifies, told them: “Do not talk to them until I get there.”
“Dressel was coming to the door with his gun drawn when Danny [Mayor Throckmorton] came zooming up on his four-wheeler,” Sherri recounts. “He told them to stop harassing me and my family or he’d pull the contract” – in other words, that he would throw the Santaquin PD out of Genola. Grudgingly, the officers backed down -- but Tom and Sherri believe that someone on the police force retaliated against the mayor.
“It was after this that I was mowing my lawn and I saw smoke coming from Danny’s property,” Sherri told me. “I found out that his barn was burned to ashes. He and his wife told us that the night the fire happened they were told by the fire department that to find the cause, they need to look no further than the Santaquin PD.”
Throckmorton, who is no longer Mayor of Genola, declined a request for comment. The woman who answered my telephone call told me that “he’s just trying to put all of this behind him.”
Harassment: Chad Black's vehicle parked near Watsons' home, March 22.
Worried about her personal safety and the well-being of her family, Sherri filed a petition seeking a protective order against Black.
In denying that petition, Judge Darold McDade insisted that Black’s habit of driving slowly and menacingly past the Watson’s home did not constitute “stalking.”
Black retaliated by filing his own petition against Sherri claiming that she had somehow “stalked” him and his children by videotaping them from her own property.
Citing a supposed conflict of interest, Black’s attorney had Judge McDade recused from hearing his petition. His replacement, Judge James Taylor, “didn’t look at the video, the past history, or any of the details of the case” before granting Black’s petition, Sherri recalls. In that fashion, an armed purveyor of state-licensed violence was designated the “victim” of a terrorized woman – who has never done harm to anybody – because she had videotaped him in the act of harassing her family.
The Watson family has set up surveillance cameras that record every visit from Officer Black, who is under orders to avoid them and to report every incidental contact that occurs. Black attempted to get a court order forcing the Watsons to remove the cameras, but wasn’t successful. This matters little, since his supervisors aren’t inclined to punish him for violating the terms of the court order.
“He constantly drives by our house, but he never reports those contacts,” Sherri laments. “After the injunction was issued, every time Black sees my car, or his kids see me at the grocery store, I’m reported to the cops.” Tom and Sherri say that they have been reported to the police at least twenty times, and have had to endure numerous visits from the Santaquin PD.
“Last December 20, after Black called the cops, we had three squad cars pull up to our house,” Tom Watson told me. “They started pounding on our door demanding to be let in.” Among the officers who responded was Chief Dennis Howard.” Tom locked the deadbolt and called attorney Ed Flint, who “told me I didn’t have to answer the door.”
“When someone is out there with guns, and your kids are hiding under their beds, you don't know what to do,” Sherri told me, struggling to maintain her composure.
Eventually the officers left, much to the family’s relief – given that Chief Howard had previously expressed a willingness to kill Tom.
“After the earlier confrontation with police at our home, Howard said that if he had been there when I came out with my gun in a holster, `I would have put you down,’” Tom informed me.
Chief Howard, incidentally, is paid $119,000 a year to preside over a tiny police department in a town with a population of fewer than 10,000 people.
Since that incident in December, the Watsons have been spared another official visit by the police. But Black persists in driving by their home, in defiance of a court order and the directions of his superiors.
“When we went to complain to the Orem Police Department, we were told that there had been an investigation and that Chad Black had been ‘cleared,” declares Sherri. “We asked him, `Really? Did you talk to the mayor? Did you speak with all of our neighbors?’ No – they only talked about this with Chad, and then decided that he had been `cleared.’”
About a year ago, Tom and Sherri paid a visit to the Orem Police Department, where they spoke with Sgt. Wade Robb about Officer Black’s relentless campaign of harassment. According to Sgt. Raab, the Utah POST Council had already investigated their complaints against Black. This greatly surprised the Watsons, because Al Acosta, the Council’s chief investigator, had told them that no investigation would take place until after Sherri had personally filed a complaint with the Orem PD.
Robb blithely replied that an unnamed POST official had spoken with Orem PD Chief Michael Larsen -- and that brief contact, as far as he was concerned, constituted an “investigation.”
“Acosta bragged to us that `When I walk into a police station, all of the officers' knees are quivering, because they they know someone is getting fired,’” Tom bitterly recalled. “What Acosta didn’t explain is that Chief Larsen is a member of the POST Council, and that he reported to Chief Larsen – which means that he couldn’t be trusted to investigate him and his department.”
During his meeting with Tom and Sherri, Orem PD Sgt. Raab admitted that Black’s persistent and unwelcome visits to the Watson home had been “documented,” while assuring the couple that there was nothing inappropriate about the officer’s malicious and vindictive behavior.
“I can’t go outside” because of the injunction, Sherri wept. “I guess it’s OK for a police officer to harass me.”
Seeking refuge in Clintonian dissimulation, Raab (whose annual share of plundered compensation is $128,000 ) replied: “I guess it depends on what the definition of `harassment’ is.”
Just a few days prior to the visit with Sgt. Robb, Sherri had received a phone call from police in nearby Payson. They were investigating a complaint from Black that Sherri had violated the injunction by shopping at a local grocery store while members of the Black family were there. Although the injunction acknowledges that “incidental” contact between Sherri and her purported victims would take place, Officer Black is exploiting every trivial encounter by filing a police report.
By going out of his way to drive past Sherri’s house, and reporting every trivial contact that occurs elsewhere, Black is trying to make her a prisoner in her own home. His superiors and colleagues are aware of what he is doing, but because the victim is a Mundane they simply don’t care.
“If he’s driving by, that’s his fault,” acknowledged a Santaquin Police Officer during a recorded telephone conversation with Tom and Sherri. When Sherri pointed out that her sons are terrified of Black, the officer wryly replied: “None of us here in Santaquin are fond of him, either.” This isn’t because of Black’s treatment of the Watson family, but because his actions prompted former Mayor Throckmorton to renegotiate the Santaquin PD’s lucrative contract with Genola.
“About a year and a half ago, the Santaquin PD got caught baiting dogs off of private property and then forcing owners to pay impound fees,” Tom explained to me. “We were attending town meetings to complain about the harassment we were facing, and then this mess happened and people got really upset. Finally the Mayor’s dog was lured off the property and caught. So the Santaquin Mayor ordered the police department to rip up every `dog at large’ ticket they had issued. The contract here in Genola was reduced, which meant less overtime for the Santaquin cops. So despite the fact that he’s still an unpaid reserve officer, nobody on the force likes him. They blame him for wrecking overtime.”
Black doubtless finds sufficient consolation in the fact that he is unassailably secure in his $94,000-a-year job with the Orem PD. (His friend John Savage is paid $110,000 a year, and will probably wind up with pensions from both the police and fire departments.) In the meantime, Tom and Sherri Watson are preparing to sell their home at a loss and move to eastern Oregon out of fear for their lives.
Sherri Watson protesting police murder of Danielle Willard.
In March 2013, Sherri was nearly run off the road by somebody driving Chad Black’s vehicle.
“I was in front of [a] stop sign when Chad Black’s truck came barreling out towards me, he almost hit me and I had to swerve off the road to avoid a wreck,” Sherri wrote in a letter to Chief Howard. “I was not going to stick around and see if it was Chad or his son driving as that would be going against the stalking injunction.”
“Do I have to be dead for the Santaquin PD, or Orem PD to car about some middle-aged woman being harassed and stalked … by a cop?” Sherri pleaded. She struck a similar note in a despairing letter to then-Mayor Throckmorton: “I do not know how to protect myself from a cop with a vendetta. Please care about me and my children. I do not want to die at Chad’s hand.”
At least some of the officials who have refused to rein in the sociopathic officer who is driving Sherri Watson’s family from their home are descendants of people who settled Utah as refugees from official persecution in Missouri and Illinois. When the man whom their ancestors revered as a prophetic leader petitioned US President Martin Van Buren for assistance, his plea was deflected with a phrase that has become drenched in disrepute: “Your cause is just – but I can do nothing for you.”
In Van Buren’s defense, his constitutional mandate did not authorize him to intervene in the internal affairs of Missouri. The pious but indifferent local officials in Orem, Santaquin, and Utah County have no such defense. They have means to protect Sherri and her innocent family, and the moral duty to come to their aid, but simply refuse to do so – most likely out of a sense of tax-feeder solidarity with her uniformed stalker.
This stolid indifference to the rights of innocent people is one facet of the pathology of privileged violence that typifies law enforcement.
William Norman Grigg publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program.
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