More than three years after police and an armed driver unleashed a barrage of gunfire outside a popular Atlantic City outlet in a gun battle that ended the man's life, officials have released dashcam video of the incident.
The video showing the March, 2014 high-speed chase and shooting that killed 27-year-old Antoquan T. Watson in the middle of one of the city’s main drags was made public Monday following a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling. The shooting was ruled justified by a grand jury and independent review.
On March 27, 2014, Watson, of Williamstown, New Jersey, was shot and killed by police following a pursuit that began along Route 40 in Pleasantville, New Jersey and made its way through Egg Harbor Township and Ventnor before ending in a hail of bullets near The Walk outdoor outlet mall in downtown Atlantic City.
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The incident began between 11:30 a.m. and noon when Watson entered the La Escondida II Restaurant and Bar on West Black Horse Pike in Pleasantville and drank two beers. Watson had been to the bar before and was recognized by employees. Witnesses inside the bar told police Watson appeared to be drunk. They also said he had a handgun in his possession though he never pointed it at anyone or threatened to use it inside the bar. Witnesses said Watson did point the gun toward the ceiling at one point however, according to investigators. Officials also say witness accounts were confirmed by surveillance footage of Watson inside the bar.
Witnesses called police after Watson walked out of the restaurant at 12:31 p.m. Pleasantville Police then arrived at the scene at 12:38 p.m. Investigators say they approached Watson who was inside his black Saturn Vue. A Pleasantville officer, who was armed with a shotgun, told Watson to roll down his windows and get out but Watson allegedly ignored him, put the vehicle in reverse and pulled out of the parking lot before driving eastbound on Black Horse Pike.
Police say neither Watson nor the officer fired shots. Instead the officer reported the incident over the radio and then began pursuing Watson. Other police vehicles then joined the pursuit.
Investigators say Watson drove at speeds between 50 and 85 miles per hour along Black Horse Pike through Pleasantville, Egg Harbor Township and into Atlantic City. The newly-released dashcam video shows him driving through several red lights.
Investigators say Watson then made a right turn off the Black Horse Pike on to West End Avenue in Atlantic City before leading police on a chase into the Ventnor Heights section of Ventnor City. He then turned back on West End Avenue and continued back toward the Black Horse Pike.
Two Atlantic City Police officers in a marked vehicle were blocking traffic at the time at the intersection of West End Avenue and the Black Horse Pike. Investigators say Watson drove through that intersection by crashing into two civilian vehicles. They also say he fired at least one round from his gun at the officers as he turned onto Albany Avenue. A “Shot-Spotter” audio sensor system confirmed Watson fired at least one shot at this time, according to officials. The officers didn’t return fire but continued to pursue Watson as he drove over the Albany Avenue Bridge into Atlantic City.
Watson continued to run several red lights as he drove down Atlantic Avenue. Investigators say he was holding his gun out of the driver’s side window toward officers who were standing on the sidewalk. He then crashed into another civilian vehicle, skidded through the intersection and struck another car before finally coming to a rest in the double center line, halfway in the southbound and northbound lanes of Atlantic Avenue near Atlantic City’s shopping and casino area “The Walk.”
The entire chase lasted 11 minutes and covered 10.3 miles. Video shows Watson getting out of his vehicle and holding a gun in his hands after the crash. Investigators say the pursuing officers told him to surrender. Video captures Watson firing at the officers however. Investigators say he then walked across Atlantic Avenue and continued to fire.
Seven of the officers then fired at least 69 shots at Watson, striking him multiple times. The officers told investigators that they feared Watson was wearing body armor due to the fact that he appeared to have sustained several gunshot wounds but was still standing. The officers said they continued to fire at Watson until they determined he was no longer a threat.
Medics arrived at the scene at 12:49 p.m. Watson was pronounced dead at 2:20 p.m.
An autopsy conducted on March 28 and March 29 of 2014 determined Watson suffered 45 gunshot wounds. The Medical Examiner determined the fatal wound was a gunshot to Watson’s head that he received after he fell to the ground. Investigators say they were unable to determine which officer fired the fatal shot due to the condition of the recovered slugs.
The autopsy revealed Watson had PCP in his system at the time of the incident, according to officials. They also determined Watson’s gun was an operable Colt 45 semi-automatic that contained an extended 10-round magazine. Investigators say the magazine was empty after the shooting though there was a defective round in the chamber, indicating Watson tried to fire the final round but it never went off.
An Atlantic County Grand Jury reviewed the incident on June 23, 2015 and determined the officers involved in the shooting were justified. They did not bring criminal indictments against the officers. An expert on police use of force also reviewed the evidence and concluded the use of force in the incident was lawful and consistent with law enforcement guidelines and standard police training.
The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement Monday that they released the dashcam footage due to a ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court earlier this month that dashcam footage of fatal police-involved shootings should be released in most cases as a matter of public interest.
Editor's Note: An edited version of the incident can be viewed in the video embedded at the top of this article. To view the full, unedited video released by the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, CLICK HERE.