UPDATE: TBI's Manhunt for Prison Escapee Continues


Gov. Bill Lee asks for public's help at press conference - TBI
  • TBI
  • Gov. Bill Lee asks for public's help at press conference

UPDATE: The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has issued warrants for the West Tennessee inmate who escaped Wednesday and is still at large.

Curtis Watson, who has been added to TBI’s Most Wanted List, is being charged with first degree murder, especially aggravated burglary, and aggravated sexual battery.

Officials are offering a $52,000 reward for anyone with information that helps lead to Watson’s apprehension, arrest, and conviction.

TBI director David Rausch said Thursday that Watson “could be anywhere. We need Tennesseans, as well as partners in surrounding states, to be vigilant.”

Curtis Ray Watson - TBI
  • TBI
  • Curtis Ray Watson

ORIGINAL POST: A day after Curtis Watson, a “dangerous fugitive” and person of interest in the homicide of a Tennessee correctional officer, escaped from a West Tennessee prison, law enforcement officials are still searching for him and asking the public to remain vigilant.

Watson, an inmate at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, Tennessee, which is about 50 miles northeast of Memphis, is suspected to have played a role in the homicide of West Tennessee Correctional Administrator Debra Johnson, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) said Wednesday.

After Johnson was found dead in her residence at the penitentiary shortly before noon on Wednesday, a manhunt ensued for Watson when prison officials found him missing from his work detail as a farm laborer.

Officials believe there was foul play involved in the death of Johnson. TBI director David Rausch said Wednesday that special agents and forensic scientists would work through the night investigating the crime scene.

TBI also asked that the public remain vigilant: “If you see Watson, call 911. Do not approach. Stay vigilant!”

There have been "numerous" reports of sightings of Watson across the state, TBI tweeted Thursday morning, but there haven't been any confirmed sightings. 

Watson is currently in the sixth year of a 15-year sentence for aggravated assault, according to the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC). Watson was previously convicted of aggravated child abuse. His sentence for that expired in 2011.

TBI issued a Blue Alert Wednesday afternoon after Watson was found missing. The Blue Alert system, established in 2011, is reserved for alerting the public of violent criminals who kill or seriously injure law enforcement officers in the line of duty. The alerts are also used to aid in locating missing officers when foul play is involved.

The system is similar to AMBER Alerts. The Blue Alert for Watson was only the third since TBI began issuing them, according to the Bureau.

Before Watson, the most recent Blue Alert was issued in May 2018 for Steven Wiggins, who was a suspect in the fatal shooting of a Dickson County Sheriff’s Officer deputy.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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