- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

The North Carolina tobacco farmer who parked his tractor on the National Mall and threatened to blow it up shutting down traffic and closing federal buildings and holding police at bay for two days finally surrendered yesterday.
The standoff ended as the District shifted into a heightened state of alert for terrorist threats. The gridlock caused by a single farmer on a John Deere tractor raised fears that it wouldn't take much to frighten the city into chaos and paralyze law-enforcement authorities.
Exactly 48 hours after driving his equipment into the pond at Constitution Gardens, Mr. Watson drove the tractor to the south shore of the pond, stepped out of the tractor and, with his hands in the air, walked backward toward police officers, who then handcuffed him. "He was very calm those final hours," Chief Chambers said, and he surrendered "without getting his feet wet."
"I just think it's funny that we have 300,000 troops halfway across the world and we can't even get this guy out of our pond," said Kate Koffman, 28, whose reaction seemed typical.
A spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, said the congressman "remains concerned that a single person could so drastically alter traffic flow in the nation's capital for almost two days."
The standoff ended at about noon, when a team of U.S. Park Police officers and FBI agents took Dwight Watson of Whitakers, N.C., into custody after negotiating the terms of his surrender.
Authorities said no weapons or explosives were found when they searched the John Deere tractor. They said they found a replica of a hand grenade in the tractor's cab.
U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers said Mr. Watson, 51, was taken to Park Police headquarters in Anacostia, where they charged him with threats to use an explosive device. He is expected to be arraigned today in U.S. District Court. Other charges are pending.
Constitution Avenue, which was shut down since the standoff began early Monday, was not reopened to traffic for more than an hour after Mr. Watson surrendered.
Chief Chambers, who led a law-enforcement task force that also included the Metropolitan Police Department; the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and the Secret Service, said police waited out the standoff to prevent injury or death. "I would rather be standing here answering questions about why we tied up traffic for two days than answering questions about a questionable shooting," she said.
She said police snipers tracked Mr. Watson throughout the standoff. She said cops considered shooting him with a tranquilizer, but chose other tactics to make him surrender.
"If [Mr. Watson] would make a move that would have endangered persons, we would have immediately reacted," Chief Chambers said.
"We had to err on the behalf of safety for everyone," said Van Harp, director of the FBI Washington field office.
Stuart Meyers, president of Operational Tactics, a Gaithersburg nonprofit organization that provides critical-incident training to law enforcement and the military, said Park Police, despite the delay that snarled commuter traffic for the early part of the week, acted appropriately. "Results speak volumes," Mr. Meyers said. "The person was taken into custody. In that regard, it was definitely a success."
"It portended very poorly for Washington," said D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, who is also vice chairman of an emergency preparedness council for the capital area.
Federal employees and downtown office workers whose daily commutes from the Virginia suburbs were lengthened by up to several hours during the drama were often angry. "I was surprised at how long they allowed it to go on for," said Ron Stauffer, a lawyer jogging downtown at lunchtime. "It would have created a problem if the city had to be evacuated."
Mrs. Schwartz said evacuation of the city in the event of a major biochemical attack remains the main fear of regional officials in the wake of the September 11 attacks. In the hours after passenger airplanes struck the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, downtown workers were released from offices only to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic for hours.
Mr. Meyers of Operational Tactics said crisis-management strategies have changed since standoffs in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, ended when federal law-enforcement authorities employed violent tactics.
"What is incumbent on law-enforcement agencies is to understand when you can wait it out and when there's a need for immediate action," Mr. Meyers said. "This person here was not a threat to anybody. He wanted to get a message out."
Frank Bolz, a New York-based crisis-management consultant who once headed the New York Police Department's hostage negotiation team, agreed.
"If a person says he has a bomb, he has a bomb until you prove otherwise," Mr. Bolz said.
After the arrest, Chief Chambers told reporters that Park Police had issued Mr. Watson a permit to drive his tractor on the grounds of the Washington Monument between March 16 and 22. The permit did not allow the tractor to be on other park property. Mr. Watson wanted to protest government policies he said were forcing tobacco farmers out of business.
Chief Chambers said Park Police and D.C. police worked closely in shutting down streets and directing traffic. Secret Service became involved immediately because the standoff was taking place about six blocks from the White House.
The FBI quickly gathered information from Mr. Watson's family and friends in North Carolina. ATF agents brought in their Automated Remote Transport System, a robot device used to disrupt explosive devices, from Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia in case a bomb had to be dismantled.
Police kept their distance from Mr. Watson and used bullhorns and cell phones to talk to him. Chief Chambers said they kept Mr. Watson awake most of Tuesday night, and a police negotiator was in constant contact. "She convinced him that his voice had been heard," Chief Chambers said. "We made the decision that he wouldn't get much sleep" and "made certain he felt safe," Chief Chambers said.
Chief Chambers, a 21-year veteran of the Prince George's County Police Department, took over the U.S. Park Police in December 2001 after a four-year stint as chief of the Durham, N.C., police department.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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