Moss Point mother: ‘All I want to know is what happened to my baby’
MOSS POINT -- Shelia Watson cries every day over the loss of her son, a 30-year-old father and longtime car enthusiast and mechanic who died shortly after Moss Point police pulled him over March 7.
When her cellphone rings, she knows it's not her son, Corry Watson, but she keeps "looking for that call."
"When a car pulls up, I go to the door," she said in an exclusive interview with the Sun Herald. "I know it's not Corry. I just keep wishing it was. It's rough. I can't sleep. I just pray and ask the Lord to give me strength."
Shelia and John "Shaun" Watson want to know what happened to their only son, but they aren't getting many answers from Moss Point police.
What they have learned, they say, has left them frustrated and disheartened.
Chief Art McClung told them their son had been pulled over because officers thought Corry Watson's car matched the description of one used earlier in a strong-arm robbery.
"It wasn't even him," his mother said. "It was a mistake."
The family also questions why Moss Point police never initiated the release of information about their son's death until 16 days after he died, when the Sun Herald received a tip and confirmed the information.
"Anything like that makes the papers, but my son's death didn't make the paper" for a while, his father said. His parents believe if police had found drugs in their son's car or there had been some high-speed chase for him or anything else happened that would have allowed police to condemn their son, "they would be typing something up on it before the next day."
"It would have been a headline," she said.
Confirming Corry's death
When the Sun Herald received a tip about Watson's death in police custody, McClung confirmed the information but released few details, citing the ongoing investigation.
He said then the incident "involved a traffic stop," and "the young man died."
He referred questions to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which had been called in to do the independent probe. MBI confirmed the traffic stop and death, but provided no more details other than where the stop occurred. MBI spokesman Warren Strain said the agency is investigating the death and not the traffic stop itself. MBI will release its findings to the Jackson County District Attorney's Office for presentation to a grand jury to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing.
The Sun Herald filed a public-information request for the incident report, but McClung rejected it.
"All I want to know is what happened to my baby," Shelia Watson said. "I understand it's under investigation, but they just act like it's nothing. Corry was a human, you know."
His parents said they might feel a little better if someone from the city, either McClung or Mayor Billy Broomfield, had just told them, 'I don't know what happened to Corry. I wasn't there, but I'm going to do my best to find out. I'm going to help you. I'm going to tell you something. I'm going to find out what happened to Corry and I'm going to get back to you and I'm going to work with you.' That would have at least brought them some comfort.
Instead, they said, no one in the city even offered their sympathies over the loss.
"Corry wasn't a troublemaker," his mother said, "He wasn't violent. He kind of stayed to himself. He wasn't the club type. Corry was a very respectable young man." They said they are "not trying to paint a perfect picture of him" but said he was a good man with good intentions.
Meeting the chief
A day after Corry Watson died, his parents had to make an appointment to meet with the police chief.
When they got there, they said, McClung seemed more defensive than anything else.
And when they asked for details, his mother said, McClung "threw his hands up in the air and said he didn't have anything to do with it because he wasn't there."
They said McClung went to explain he arrived at the scene after the stop and saw his officers rendering aid to her son.
"That's when he told me it was a case of mistaken identity," Shelia Watson said. "It was all a mistake."
The police chief told the family their son died of cardiac arrest.
"But we want to know what caused the cardiac arrest," Shaun Watson said. "And why did they hold him so long?"
McClung fired back earlier this week, saying he is not trying to hide anything from anyone.
"I'm here for the Watson family, and I want to get to the bottom of Corry's death," he said. "I am the one who called MBI so this would be an open and honest investigation by an outside source. The bottom line is the family lost a son. I empathize with them. It is my sincere hope and prayer that when this investigation is over I can give them the answers they are looking for. I sincerely care about this family and getting closure for them."
Witnesses talk to the family
Many people witnessed the traffic stop involving Corry Watson and talked to his family.
Shelia Watson happened to be visiting a friend near the 2 p.m. traffic stop at Magnolia Street and Sherlawn Drive when she learned it was her son police had pulled over.
She rushed to him, but police held her back. At one point, she said, she caught a glimpse of her son on the ground.
"My son was dead on Sherlawn Drive," she said. "I knew it. The doctors told me they brought him back two times, but he was already dead. I just felt it."
The witnesses told the family Corry Watson got out of his car with his hands in the air. They said they saw officers place him in the back of a patrol car for a bit while they huddled to talk, then got him back out.
The family said the witnesses saw their son was sweating, then appeared to start having a seizure and collapsed.
The witnesses told the family they questioned why it took so long to get him to a hospital.
The Watsons said McClung told them it was because Corry Watson didn't have any identification on him.
His parents said Moss Point police knew exactly who Corry Watson because they seemed to go after him often to the point that it seemed he was being harassed.
Corry Watson, however, had a suspended driver's license, and unpaid tickets. He had been pulled over on multiple occasions for driving without a license. In addition, he owed back child support. Still, his family said, he was a good and decent man who respected his elders and friends and loved his family.
"Corry didn't get the right medical attention," Shelia Watson said. "Corry was having a seizure, sweating and falling out. Instead of them working on Corry, they should have been calling for an ambulance."
An ambulance did take Corry Watson to Singing River Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Coroner Vicki Broadus told the Sun Herald in March there was no obvious sign of injury to Watson's body and the cause of his death was pending autopsy and toxicology tests. She said those results would be turned over to authorities as part of their investigation.
Losing a son and father
Shaun Watson said he's always been a strong Christian man whose family never saw him cry. His son's death changed him.
"I never drank in my life and if I didn't have the Lord in my life, I'd probably be at the liquor store," he said. "I know I'm going to be all right. I trust in the Lord. I know he's going to get me through it, but it's hard."
The father said his relationship with God is the only thing keeping him going.
"That's the only thing I've got to keep me going is his (God's) voice and Corry's spirit telling me, 'Dad, you are strong. You are going to be all right,'" he said. "I just never imagined burying Corry. I just always imagined him burying me. I'm hurting 24/7."
Shaun Watson planned to retire from his wrecker service and antique car restoration business in a few years after his retirement from Ingalls Shipbuilding kicks in. He had planned to hand over his businesses to his son.
Chutney Walley, Corry's Watson's longtime girlfriend who said the couple had plans to marry, said she's been grieving since she learned of his death. The couple have two children together.
"It's hard to keep looking at your children suffering because they lost their father," she said. "You know, a mother and father are without a child and a lot of children are without their dad. It's hard."
Corry Watson Jr. wrote a letter to his father after he learned of his death.
In it, the young boy said he understood his father couldn't be there with him for his eighth birthday because "God said it was time to come home and you are resting in peace.
"You love us and we love you. It's hard, but we are going to make it."
Corry Watson Jr. also went out of his way not to blame the officers who pulled over his father.
"We hated this happened to you, but it happens," he wrote. The "police got to do their job."
The boy said both his father and mother, a registered nurse, "inspired" him.
Shaun Watson had bought the body of a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle just before his son's death, which he planned to fix up and give to his son. Corry Watson was so proud of it that he'd brought a friend over to show him what his dad had for him.
In Shaun Watson's large shop in the yard behind his home, there are various reminders of a beloved son.
His two dogs, Duke and Diamond, are there, and motorcycles small and large, all given to Corry Watson at different times in his life, sit side-by-side.
Shaun Watson said he's not looking to blame the police and he realizes they may find out their son would have died even if he'd arrived at the hospital earlier.
The family wants McClung, Broomfield and the entire Police Department to work on improving their relationship with residents.
"You know, it's my son today, but you never know when it's going to be your son or when it's (death) coming to your address," he said. "We are not angry. We are not mad. We are trying to make Moss Point a better place. I know the mayor and I know the chief and I don't have any problem with them."