DeSoto police defend run-ins with former DA Craig Watkins

DESOTO -- Two times in recent months, DeSoto police have responded to incidents involving former District Attorney Craig Watkins.

DESOTO -- Two times in recent months, DeSoto police have responded to incidents involving former District Attorney Craig Watkins.

One was a May 28 domestic disturbance involving Watkins’ wife. Two of his children told police that the county’s former chief prosecutor pushed his wife against a wall at their DeSoto home and punched his 17-year-old son when he tried to intervene.

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In the other case, police say that on July 14, they found Watkins drunk and walking along the side of the road near a golf course in the middle of the night. He told police that he’d made his wife mad at him and he was walking to where she was staying to apologize.

DeSoto Police Chief Joe Costa said officers used their discretion in both instances and opted not to arrest Watkins on what would have been Class C misdemeanors, punishable by a fine.

“We didn’t give him any preferential treatment,” Costa said. “We would treat anyone else under the same set of circumstances in each incident, we treat everybody the same way, no matter who you are, or where you’re from.”

Watkins and his wife, Tanya, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Watkins served as Dallas County DA from 2007 until he was defeated in November 2014. He was the state's first elected African American DA, and built a national reputation freeing wrongfully convicted defendants in a series of high profile exonerations. Watkins is now a criminal defense attorney.

Both incidents are captured on police dashboard and body-worn cameras. News 8 obtained the video through the state's open records act.

In the early morning hours of May 28, Craig Watkins’ mother, who lives in DeSoto, called 911. She told the operator that was calling on behalf of her daughter-in-law.

“She called with an emergency and I don’t know what’s going on over there,” she told the operator.

Tanya Watkins met police at the door.

“We just had an argument,” Tanya Watkins told the officer, “and I told her (Craig Watkins’ mother) to come get her son.”

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She told police that everything was fine now.

“It was pushing, and the kids were scared and yelling,” she said.

She told police that her husband would be leaving the home.

Once inside the home, the officers spoke to Craig Watkins. He politely and calmly told officers that it had just been a verbal argument.

A police supervisor walked up the stairs to talk to the couple’s three children. His body camera was rolling.

The couple’s 10 year-old daughter told police that she heard her parents arguing, so she went downstairs to their bedroom.

“I went in their room, and I saw my mom being pushed by my dad,” she told police on the video. “And then I called my brother ... to come down here because he was yelling at me and he kept pushing my mom against the wall and stuff…Then he punched my brother and my brother punched him back.”

Her 17-year-old brother acknowledged being punched in the stomach, but he said he was not in pain.

As the supervisor continued questioning them, Tanya Watkins made it clear she was ready for police to leave.

“We’re done,” she said.

“No, we’re not done,” the supervisor told her. “We’re not done until I say we’re done.”

The 10-year-old told the supervisor, “I’ve never seen him like this. So we hid everything in case the police didn’t come. We got some stuff to defend our mom.”

When the officer asked the children if they were going to be OK that night, the 10-year-old replied, “No, not really.”

Tanya Watkins told police that she would take the children to her mother’s home. The 10-year-old insisted to her mother that she leave the home for the night.

“You will not stay here all by yourself,” she told her mother.

Officers explained to Tanya Watkins and her son that they weren’t going to issue any citations. They further explained that if anyone wanted to file a complaint, they could do so at the municipal court.

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Chief Costa found no fault in the way his officers handled the encounter. He says no arrest was made because no one complained of injury or pain.

“You have discretion to make an arrest or not make an arrest under those circumstances,” Costa said.

According to DeSoto's policy on how to handle domestic violence situations, if anyone in the house had complained of injury or pain, officers would have been required to make an arrest.

DeSoto police would encounter Watkins again almost seven weeks later.

In the early morning hours of July 14, Desoto PD received a call about a man lying in the street on Wintergreen Road.

Dash cam video shows a man walking along the side of a bridge. When officers approached, the man identified himself as Craig Watkins.

“I used to be DA,” he says.

He explained to officers that his wife was mad at him and that she’s staying at her mother’s house. Watkins told officers that he decided to walk there to show that he “loves her.”

“I’m just trying to make up with her because I’ve been acting a fool lately,” Watkins said on the police video.

When questioned, Watkins denied drinking any alcohol. “I can smell the alcohol, come on," an officer tells him on the video. "It’s strong.”

“I'm shooting straight with you, but I'm not driving,” Watkins replies.

“You're out here walking in public,” the officer said. “People are calling saying you were laying in the road a minute ago.”

Watkins told the officer that he fell in the grass.

After some discussion, the officers decided that the best course of action was to find someone to come get Watkins.

“I’m sure he’s got a million people that would come and pick him up right now,” an officer says.

For safety reasons, the officers handcuffed Watkins, put him in the back of a squad car, then tried to call his wife. She didn’t answer.

“Man, these hurt. I've never been in handcuffs in my life,” he told the officer as he sat in the back of the squad car.

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Watkins failed a field sobriety test that an officer gave him while inside the police vehicle.

An officer then drove to the home of Craig Watkins' parents, who live nearby, woke his father up and told him what had happened. He agreed to pick up his son.

Once his father arrived, the officers took off the handcuffs.

“I'm glad I'm not a criminal, because these hurt,” Watkins told the officer. He and his dad drove off together.

Chief Costa said that, again, even though police could have made an arrest, they used their discretion and let Watkins go because the former DA was not driving, was not causing a disturbance and did not appear to be a threat to himself or others.

“Any other person put in that same circumstance, we would do the same thing,” Costa told News 8. “We’re trying to get them to a safe place with their family where they can be with someone and make sure they are safe.”

He said that if his officers had made an arrest in either instance, people would have claimed they had treated Watkins differently because he was the former DA.

“I stand behind my officers in the determination that we made both nights,” he said.