Saturday, February 27, 2021
In a quaint, affluent neighborhood near the Catalina Foothills, weeks of harassment against a Pima County judge culminated in the justice of the peace firing his handgun as a warning shot to the perpetrator, who was once a plaintiff in his courtroom.
Judge Adam Watters, the justice of the peace for Precinct 1, fired a bullet at the ground to scare off a landlord, Fei Qin, 38, who was part of an eviction case he presided over in January.
The judge claims for weeks, the man dumped trash on Watters’ property and slashed his truck tires on two separate occasions.
In an incident report from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, Watters, 59, told officers he went to leave for work on the morning of Feb. 5 to find the tires of Ford F-150 sliced open and deflated.
Watters’ wife, Jill Watters, told police she heard her dogs barking the night before and went to investigate, but found nothing. The next morning, she learned all four of her husband’s tires had been slashed while a bag of trash was left sitting on the roadway near the truck.
“She advised in her neighborhood, there was not so much as a grocery bag blowing around, so it looked to be out of place,” the police report said.
Judge Watters, who did not respond to multiple requests for an interview for this story, hoped the tire vandalism would be a one-time incident—perhaps someone he put in jail or an individual who was unhappy with a judgment and sought retribution.
But as the days went by, the Watters family continued to find trash littering their property.
The morning of Feb. 11, Watters told police his wife came inside the house visibly upset and said: “They’ve done it again.”
All four of Watters’ truck tires had been slashed a second time. He said another bag of trash was left in place of the one left behind in the first vandalism.
The report said in one of the trash dumps on Feb. 13, police found a letter addressed to Shayna Serrato, a tenant of Qin’s he attempted to evict in a case Watters presided over.
Watters arranged a periodic check-in with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. Police would drive by to check on the residence due to the ongoing littering and vandalism reports. The judge told police he’d seen deputies driving by in the early morning hours, as the stress of the situation kept him from sleeping.
Neighbors had documented a grey Subaru station wagon driving past the house. Esther Underwood, head of the neighborhood watch, told police she once saw a man exit the vehicle and slowly walk up to the residence and return to his car again.
While Underwood was able to take photos of the car and its license plate, the driver’s face had yet to be captured.
According to the incident report, on Feb. 14, Watters’ set out on a mission to capture a photo of the litterer’s face. The man would usually make his drive-bys around noon.
The morning of Valentine’s Day, Watters went out to breakfast with his wife and bought her flowers. He then set up a green lawn chair in the desert surrounding his residence and armed himself with a handgun.
His daughters, Caitlin and Cassandra, also set up chairs by the family’s guest house and waited for the man to arrive. The women were armed with a shotgun.
Watters told police Caitlin brought the shotgun to the house for her mother, who was often home alone. At the time, Caitlin Watters worked at the Pima County Attorney’s Office, although she has since resigned.
The judge said, at first, they didn’t expect to observe another trash dumping drive-by in their makeshift stake out—the man usually did them on weekdays. Then, Watters recounts hearing one of his daughters make the chilling statement: “He’s here.”
The grey Subaru passed the house and entered the cul-de-sac at the end of the street. Watters told police the car idled in the cul-de-sac for 30-40 seconds before it turned around, drove forward and stopped directly parallel to where the judge stood at the end of his driveway.
Watters told the driver to get out of the car and get on the ground. He told police the man said “I don’t have to get out of the car,” but then opened his driver’s side door, striking Watters’ wrist.
“He described that point in time where things started to go ‘awry,’” The report said. “Mr. Watters described the male as being ‘cool as could be.’”
Watters said the man, later identified as Fei Qin, got out of the car and stared at him, “not blinking,” the report said. Qin told him he did not have to listen to his orders to get on the ground.
After a few seconds of silence, Watters said Qin took a step toward him, and Watters pulled his handgun out of his jacket pocket.
Watters described to police a variety of thoughts running through his head as his daughters remained behind him on the driveway, “One was that he needed to get control of the situation somehow and threaten him up somehow or else the individual may come after him,” according to the report.
He again ordered Qin to get on the ground, to which Watters recounts Qin responded, “What are you going to do, kill me?”
“Mr. Watters described it as not being so simple of just asking a question, that the way he said it struck Mr. Watters as significant. The male had a smirk on his face and described it was like the individual had ‘no fear’ and that it was ‘creepy,’” The report said. “Mr. Watters then stated that he wasn’t quite sure what to do, but thought maybe he could scare him to keep him away from him.”
Watters then fired a shot on the ground to the left of Qin’s foot.
“Mr. Watters stated at that point that the situation had obviously escalated and that he didn’t mean for it to escalate, but Mr. Watters felt he had to do something because the male was terrorizing him and he actually stated that he told the male individual that he was terrorizing his family to which the male did not respond,” the report states.
Watters told police he wanted Qin to know he would stand his ground, but after he fired a shot, Qin “didn’t blink and just stood there.”
Deputies arrived on the scene seconds later, as Watters’ daughter Caitlin called police after the familiar grey car arrived on the street.
Police put Qin in the back of a patrol car and later arrested him for stalking, a class 5 felony.
Qin tells police a slightly different version of the story. He said when he tried to get out of the car, Watters fired at him. He also told police the judge walked up to his vehicle once Qin slowed down and attempted to strike him.
Qin said Watters pulled a gun out of his pocket while appearing to film with his cell phone in his other hand. A video recorded from Watters’ phone was submitted to police, although the report said it only showed Qin’s car driving and didn’t reveal the altercation between the two men.
He told one officer Watters “pointed the gun at his face and stated something to the effect of: I am going to blow your head off and to get out of the car.”
After speaking with his attorney on the phone after the incident, Watters said he wouldn’t provide a statement to officers at the time, but would the next day. In the interview on Feb. 15, Watters told detectives “he never touched [Qin],” and was wary he may have been carrying a knife.
The report of the interview said, “He did state that he did make mention of shooting him or blowing off his head something to that effect, but again stated that he had not produced the firearm at that point.”
Watters later added he put around 300 rounds in his handgun and that he “would not have missed if he had made the decision to shoot the individual.”
Qin told officers he was just “driving around,” as he bought and rented homes and was looking for potential properties. At the scene of the altercation, Qin said he didn’t know who Watters was and had never seen him before. He denied ever dumping trash on the property or slashing truck tires.
When shown photos police obtained from neighbors of a vehicle matching the license plate and make of Qin’s car driving through the neighborhood, the police report said, “he started becoming very defensive.”
Detectives report Qin did admit the individuals he rented to were the same as the letters police obtained on the property. According to the report, he said “I wouldn’t take [the mail], I would just look at it and put it back.”
Qin told police he had “tools for working on homes,” and an item similar to a drywall knife in his car. Inside his Subaru, police found a glass pipe, marijuana, a CenterPoint rifle scope and a butcher knife.
According to the Pima County Adult Detention Center, Qin is still being held with a $5,000 bond. Pima County Attorney’s Office spokesman Joe Watson said the office had determined they had a conflict of interest in the case and would be sending it to another prosecutor’s office.
Judge Watters wrote a mass email to his neighbors explaining the incident with Qin that resulted in him firing his gun.
“As many of you know, my wife and I have been subjected to a barrage of harassment over the past two weeks. This includes trash thrown onto my property daily and twice having all four tires slashed on a vehicle. Yesterday, the Pima Sheriff arrested and charged the man shown in the attached photo with felony stalking outside my home,” Watters wrote. “The stalking and harassment was certainly related to my work as a Justice of the Peace. I would ask you, if you see this individual or his vehicle anywhere in our neighborhood, to immediately call 911.”
Qin’s former tenant describes his odd behavior; vandalism
While Qin told police he’d never seen Watters before, the judge told officers he remembered Qin.
Not only did he recall the name Shayna Serrato listed on a piece of mail dumped on his property, but he remembered the name Fei Qin as the landlord and plaintiff in Serrato’s case.
Watters told police nothing of particular significance occurred in the case, though “he would not have a very good feel for the situation due to the fact that everything right now was currently via Zoom.”
Qin filed charges against Shayna and Michael Serrato for failure to pay rent in January. According to court records, the Serratos owed Qin $800 for rent, and the landlord requested $1,090 total for late fees in a complaint filed on Jan. 11.
The hearing took place remotely on Jan. 19 before Judge Watters. Shayna Serrato said she was able to file the proper paperwork to be eligible for protection under the CDC’s eviction moratorium, but Watters ordered Serrato to pay Qin the rent money she owed.
Serrato said at the virtual hearing, Qin argued with Watters about his ruling.
“[Watters] did say that he wanted me to pay him back rent. But he said that he couldn't evict me, he lost,” Serrato said. “In court, he was actually arguing with the judge, and the judge actually hung up on him in court and was like 'I'm not going to listen to you.'”
After Qin was denied the right to evict Serrato, a series of events eventually drove her out of the apartment he owned.
On Jan. 20, Serrato filed a complaint in the justice court alleging Qin removed the water valve for her apartment and shut off the electrical breaker.
On Feb. 6, Watters wrote in an order, “This court cannot order an action (called specific performance) — tenant has other legal remedies if landlord is withholding utilities.”
Serrato said was able to restore the electricity through Tucson Electric Power on her own, but that Qin would lock her out of her residence when she was away.
“Right after I changed my locks, I come home and my outside locks aren’t working, he had tampered with them,” Serrato said. “Right as I’m going to try to unlock it, he goes driving by really, really slow. Just like, looking.”
The next morning, Serrato woke up to find all four tires on her car tires slashed open.
“Every morning after court, I was waking up to something, and I was like, what’s he going to do next? Put sugar in my gas tank?” Serrato said. “I have kids, and I had to get out of there.”
Fearing for the safety of her three small children, Serrato moved out of the residence owned by Qin at the end of January.
Before the chaos that ensued after Watters’ court ruling, Serrato said she had frequent issues with the ventilation and water in her apartment, which Qin never addressed. Furthermore, Serrato said he would approach her romantically and even called her “pretty” in front of her husband.
She claims Qin would sit in his car, a grey Subaru, idling in the parking lot for hours at a time.
“When my husband was at work, I would look outside and he would just be sitting in my parking lot. He would just sit there for an hour or two,” Serrato said.
Awaiting her utility bills that are still being delivered to her old address, Serrato said she’s tasked a neighbor with retrieving her mail. Every time the neighbor has checked it, the mailbox was empty.
Correction: This article's byline was originally misattributed. It was written by Nicole Ludden.