Former Norman Wells mayor guilty of cocaine possession

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The former mayor of Norman Wells tried to convince a judge the two baggies of cocaine police found in his jacket pocket weren’t his.

Nathan Watson, 47, testified at trial that his jacket – emblazoned with his name and the words Town of Norman Wells – was on the back of a chair with other coats while he was drinking at a house party in the fall of 2017.

“Mr Watson claimed he had no idea how the cocaine got into his pocket,” Judge Garth Malakoe said reading his decision Friday in territorial court.

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“I do not find Mr Watson to be a credible witness with respect to his denial of knowledge there was cocaine in his pocket.

“It makes no sense that someone inadvertently or mistakenly put this amount of cocaine [3.2 grams] in someone else’s distinctive-looking jacket … either to store it there, or to get Mr Watson in trouble.”

During the previous trial, Watson referenced the fact he was the mayor of Norman Wells at the time and that he had “disagreements” with certain people.

However, the judge Friday said “there was no evidence that police had been tipped off” about cocaine being in Watson’s pocket.

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Malakoe described the amount of cocaine as “significant” and wondered why someone would place two baggies of cocaine in Watson’s pocket if they were trying to frame him, when one would have done.

The judge also noted Watson’s “legal issues” with the town began after his arrest.

Search was legal

On the night of October 6, 2017, Watson had been at the Legion for a couple of hours. When he was leaving, he received a call about a house party being held by a group of younger people.

Watson was at the party for about 90 minutes, leaving at about 10:30pm.

The RCMP pulled Watson over after he ran a stop sign. Alcohol was smelled on him, and he later blew .120 on two breathalyzer tests.The legal limit is .08.

The impaired driving charges were stayed by the Crown.

As Watson was going to have to be placed in a cell for some period of time that night, police went through his pockets to take an inventory of his personal belongings. That’s when they found the two bags of drugs and a marijuana pipe.

At trial, Watson admitted using cannabis – that was prior to it becoming legal across Canada – but said he drew the line at cocaine.

Watson tried to argue the police search was illegal, as it was done without a warrant.
The search without a warrant was legal, the judge ruled, as it was a normal booking-in process.

In fact, as police were subsequently called out to deal with an intoxicated person laying in the street, Watson had to spend longer than expected behind bars.

And it also took police some time to find a sober person in the town who could come and pick Watson up, said the judge.

A couple of weeks after his arrest, Watson told CBC North he was “still in a state of shock" and that he wanted “to apologize to everyone.”

Personal issues

Watson had been mayor of Norman Wells for two years. Prior to that he had been deputy mayor for several years.

Watson, who worked for the GNWT as the regional airport manager, told CBC at the time he was dealing with a number of personal issues prior to the October 6 arrest.

"I essentially found myself as a single parent with two full-time jobs. Ultimately it all became just a bit too much for me," he told the broadcaster.

A couple of weeks after his arrest, Watson and the entire town council were thrown from office by the GNWT due to “operational difficulties.”

An administrator was installed to run the town after the GNWT investigated allegations of conflicts of interest and failure to follow proper procedures.

In an October 18, 2017 news release, the GNWT stated the administrator “will be focused on developing new and amending existing council bylaws to ensure there are clear authorities, operations and procedures for future elected councils.”

A new mayor and council were elected last October.

Meanwhile, in July 2017, a former town clerk filed a $372,000 civil suit against the Town of Norman Wells, alleging wrongful dismissal. Some 19 employees had been fired or quit over a two-year period, and many of their allegations of a stressful and “poisonous” work environment made it to social media.

The Town filed a counter suit. The status of that lawsuit wasn’t immediately known.
Watson, who was not in court Friday, will be sentenced at a later date.

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