A reputed Crips gang member who was accused of trying to execute an undercover FBI agent staked out on a Brooklyn street was convicted of attempted murder in Brooklyn federal court Wednesday.
In a December incident that was caught on camera, 31-year-old Ronell Watson “aggressively” opened fire on FBI Special Agent Christopher Harper as he tried to drive away, prosecutors said.
Watson was found guilty of attempted murder of a federal officer, assault of a federal officer, and possessing and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. The known gang member, who has nearly a dozen drug and grand larceny arrests on his record, now faces life in prison.
“As found by the jury, FBI Special Agent Harper was performing his official duties last December when the defendant attempted to execute him without any warning,” United States Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement. “Despite sustaining life threatening injuries, Special Agent Harper performed courageously, returning fire and wounding the defendant, actions that led to Watson’s capture soon thereafter.”
During the two-week trial, prosecutors argued that on Dec. 8, 2018, Harper was “conducting surveillance” on a one-way street near Watson’s Canarsie house when the gang member drove the wrong way up the street and parked his BMW M5, partially blocking the agent’s unmarked car. Watson then allegedly strode up to the driver’s side door with his hand in his hooded sweatshirt.
Harper testified in court that at the time of the shooting, he was on a “covert” assignment and staking out another suspect while he was speaking to his wife on FaceTime.
When Watson approached, Harper said he told his wife “somebody shady is walking to my car,” before putting his phone down in the center console without hanging up.
As Harper tried to move his car, he testified, Watson pulled a gun out of his pocket and suddenly started to shoot. After being hit in the torso, Harper got out of his car and returned fire, wounding Watson in the hand before he fled the scene. The entire incident was recorded on three separate surveillance cameras.
“I immediately got back in the—back into my car, the Maxima and I had to tell my wife, you know, that I was shot,” Harper testified in court. “So I just yelled it out, ‘Jess, I’m shot, I’m shot.’ I told her to call 911. I didn’t tell her where I was exactly but I said call 911.”
The agent’s wife, Jessica Lasek, also testified in court that she heard several gunshots before Harper picked up the phone and told her to call for help.
“I heard a muffled voice, and then the next thing I heard was a loud popping,” Lasek said.
Harper underwent multiple surgeries, he testified, and is still an active FBI special agent.
Watson’s public defense attorney, Michelle Gelernt, argued during the trial that her client opened fire after Harper’s Nissan started barreling toward him. He panicked, Gelernt said, and acted out of self defense.
“Ronell Watson was no assassin,” she said in her closing arguments. “He’s just as afraid of agent Harper as agent Harper is of him.”
Minutes after the shooting, Watson can be seen in another surveillance video ditching his bullet-ridden car at an auto-body shop and heading to Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center with a friend, prosecutors said.
At the hospital, he lied to authorities and claimed he had been an innocent bystander to a gunfight, prosecutors alleged. Officers, however, overheard Watson calling his girlfriend, Molissa Gangapersad, and allegedly telling her to go to their house and “get the jewelry and get rid of it.”
Inside the couple’s home, prosecutors said, investigators found a large amount of jewelry, 1.5 pounds of marijuana, and about $15,000.
Gary Schorr, Ms. Gangapersad’s lawyer, did not immediately respond to The Daily Beat’s request for comment.