PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) - Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson says he admitted guilt to a misdemeanor involving an inmate in his work center two years ago. He’s never been charged, but now documents have been filed in court about the offense in the inmate’s assault case.
On Tuesday, Anthony Thomas Ruffin was convicted of felony assault for biting a woman. He also pleaded guilty for biting a man during the same incident. But the most interesting part of Ruffin’s story is what he did for Sheriff Watson.
"He put up a few studs and some plywood,” said Watson.
Watson spoke exclusively to WAVY.com, admitting he paid Anthony Ruffin, while he was an inmate, to build part of his garage.
"He put up a couple of boards, and I paid him $190 dollars for two days,” Watson said.
The problem is the Sheriff’s actions are a misdemeanor offense, according to the Virginia State Code (53.1-130): "No Sheriff ... deputy ... shall have any prisoner work on property owned by him or by his relative.”
WAVY.com asked Watson what he would do if he is charged.
"I'm guilty. I would plead guilty. I did it, and I know I broke the law. I am not going to hide from anything,” Sheriff Watson said candidly.
Watson says he told State Police investigators two years ago about the offense. He even gave investigators the canceled checks he had given to Ruffin to prove it. An interesting note: when the Sheriff told State Police about the work, and showed them the checks, he was still within the one year period of time when he could be charged with a misdemeanor, "They knew back then. I was totally honest, and they knew I was honest," Watson says. Even with this information, State Police did not charge Watson.
"When I showed them the canceled checks, their eyes widened and they said 'you paid him?’ ... Sure I paid him. I don't have a person on my property working and not getting paid. I don't believe in slave labor," Watson said.
At the time of the offense, Ruffin and other inmates were working with the Tidewater Builders Association, learning a trade through the Building Trades Academy. Sheriff Watson supported the non-profit with inmates, including Ruffin.
The State Police interviewed Ruffin in 2012 about Watson’s work release program, according to court documents filed in Ruffin’s assault case by Commonwealth’s Attorney Earle C. Mobley. Mobley’s office prosecuted Ruffin in his assault case. It should be noted that the assault took place while Ruffin was working in the Sheriff's work-release program. He walked away from the supervision, disappeared, and committed the attacks.
Watson says he has never heard anything back from Virginia State Police about paying Ruffin to do work for him. Some of the documents Mobley filed in court include notes from an investigation by Virginia State Police, Portsmouth Police, as well as an investigator’s summary.
The State Police investigator, whose name is redacted, writes, "Ruffin stated he delivered lumber to the Sheriff's house, so that other inmates could build a deck.”
Watson says almost everything Ruffin told State Police during the investigation was a lie.
"That is a lie,” Watson said. “The lumber was already at the house. The contractor was already working on the garage."
The investigator’s summary continued: "Ruffin recalled delivering and picking up a hot tub at the Sheriff's house and delivering a door that was taken from the burned building [at] the Sheriff's country [home in Isle of Wight County]."
"I have never owned a hot tub,” Watson told WAVY.com.
WAVY.com looked at the Portsmouth Police investigator's notes from the Ruffin interview and found a lot of the transcription doesn’t correspond with the State Police investigator's summary. The State Police investigator filled in a lot of gaps in the story compared to the Portsmouth Police investigation.
Virginia State Police have given no comment on the investigation to WAVY.com and the investigator listed in the paperwork has his name redacted.
Watson says it was a political move for Mobley to file the documents in the Ruffin assault case. Sheriff Watson, a Democrat, is running against a Republican and two others in the election next month. Mobley is a Republican.
"I call this the dirtiest political trick I have ever seen, but that is Earle Mobley," Sheriff Watson said.
Mobley seemed in awe when WAVY.com told him of Watson’s admission of guilt in the situation with Ruffin.
“So he essentially has admitted to breaking the law? ... We can't bring a charge against him because, for a misdemeanor, the statute of limitations has run. So we can't bring an action against him on this matter,” Mobley said.
After two years, one can assume State Police either had no interest in pursuing charges against Sheriff Watson or they thought the evidence failed to rise to the level of prosecution.
Mobley denies any unjust motivation for his filing the court documents in Ruffin’s assault case.
"I know all the candidates, including Sheriff Watson,” Mobley said. “To say that I am going to do something that is politically motivated is just not true. We are going to do what is right. He admitted to breaking the law and perhaps he should answer for that.”
Mobley says he is bound by Supreme Court Law to release all information involving a case to prosecutors and defense, and that's what Mobley said he did. Ruffin working in Watson's work release program was relevant to the attack.
"The fact that Sheriff Watson has admitted to breaking the law and then turns that around and then says this is political in nature just flies in the face of logic," Mobley said.
Sheriff Watson counters, "This is just a chance for Mobley to throw a wrench into the gears right before the election. This investigation has nothing to do with the Ruffin case that went to court [Tuesday]."
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