ERIE, Colo. — An Erie Police officer who was fired after an internal investigation now faces felony charges for lying about prior military service on his application and during his interview process, according to an arrest affidavit.
Joseph Watts-Johnson was arrested and faces charges of forgery and an attempt to influence a public servant. He was terminated from the Erie Police Department on July 13 following an internal investigation, according to a department spokeswoman.
As part of Watts-Johnson's hiring process for the department, he met with the department's chief in December. During that interview, he was asked about his military background, an arrest affidavit says. He mentioned that he served in the military and completed Ranger School as well as Airborne and Air Assault schools.
He was ultimately hired. The chief later looked at his discharge paperwork from the military, which was provided with his application. The document typically details someone's military service, but the chief noticed it did not have information about Watt-Johnson being a part of the Army Rangers, Airborne, or the Air Assault Division.
In January, Chief Kim Stewart followed up with Watts-Johnson about his statements during the interview and asked him for documentation of the military experience he talked about.
Watts-Johnson told the chief his ex-wife had destroyed all of his military documents and he would have to request the long form that showed it.
In the meantime, he completed training and began working as a solo officer in May of this year, the affidavit says.
In June he was asked again to provide the documentation. He provided a copy of the form, but it was the same form he had previously provided, the affidavit says.
On June 28, he brought in a different form which looked like the original form but with information "added and changed," the affidavit says. It also had "editing mistakes," which made the department question its authenticity.
Watts-Johnson was put on paid leave on July 3 pending an investigation into "possible departure from the truth," the affidavit says.
Erie PD contacted Army Archives and received Watts-Johnson's original form. The department was told they had "no records" indicating that alterations, additions or changes were made to it.
On July 8, Watts-Johnson was placed on unpaid leave and notified of a criminal investigation.
During that investigation, Watts-Johnson spoke with an investigator from the district attorney's office. He said that when he applied for the job he used a friend's resume as a template and took some things out and added some things in that applied to him.
He indicated that he didn't think much about those things until he was questioned about them in the interview. He admitted to going along with what the resume said during that interview, the affidavit says. He also admitted to altering the military records.
“With members of law enforcement, it is always important that issues related to truthfulness are dealt with and addressed," District Attorney Michael Dougherty said in a statement.
"It is a testament to the overall integrity of the Erie Police Department, including Chief Kim Stewart, that they pursued this matter and immediately notified the District Attorney’s Office of possible concerns related to the job application. The Erie Police Department cooperated, and assisted, with the investigation that led to these charges."
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