AURORA - A grand jury indicted a former police chief on embezzlement and obstruction of justice charges, accusing the Beaufort County man of taking a high-power rifle during his tenure as chief.
Willis Cohoon Watts, Aurora police chief from April 2010 to August 2011, is accused of taking a Browning Rifle originally seized as evidence. Beaufort County prosecutors allege Watts lied to a judge about the weapon, using the firearm on his personal time for seven months.
"It's a misunderstanding," Willis said Monday at his home in Washington. "It most definitely is (a misunderstanding."
The indictment handed down by a grand jury states Watts "unlawfully, willfully and feloniously did embezzle" the rifle, fraudulently converting the weapon to his own use.
Watts was sworn in as Aurora's police chief April 27, 2010. The indictment asserts one month later, on May 28, 2010, Watts began using the Browning Rifle.
According to law enforcement sources, Watts attempted to trade another gun with the rifle. The use of the high-power weapon allegedly lasted until January 8, 2011, a time frame listed in the indictment.
Watts was dismissed from his position as chief on August 19, 2011. The reasons for his dismissal were never officially disclosed.
The former chief now faces one count of embezzlement, one count of embezzlement by local officer, and two counts of obstruction of justice.
The indictment states Watts made, "false and misleading statements... acted with deceit and intent to defraud the administration of justice."
The case was handled by both the Beaufort County District Attorney's Office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.