Armed Robbery Suspect In Boardwalk Incident Last Summer Sentenced

SNOW HILL — One of four suspects charged in a gunpoint robbery on the Boardwalk last summer pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree assault and was sentenced to a total of 12 years, all but five or which were suspended.

James Watson, 17, of Alexandria, Va., last Thursday pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree assault for his role in the Aug. 26 incident. He was sentenced to 12 years, including 10 for one count and one year each for the other two counts. All but five years of which were suspended. He was also placed on supervised probation for three years upon his release.

Around 2:15 a.m. on Aug. 26, an Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officer on bicycle patrol was dispatched to the area of 12th Street and the Boardwalk for a reported assault with gun. As the bicycle officer made his way to the scene, the officer observed a suspect matching the description provided by Ocean City Communications running west toward Baltimore Avenue. The officer detained the suspect, later identified Watson, 17.

OCPD officers viewed the City Watch video footage of the incident and observed Watson walking down the Boardwalk carrying a shotgun. The officer who first detained Watson reported never seeing Watson in possession of the shotgun, but witnesses told police Watson handed the weapon to a friend, who went back to their vehicle.

OCPD officers interviewed the female victim, who reportedly told police Watson had robbed her and her 10-year-old niece. The victim told police Watson held her 10-year-old niece at gunpoint and demanded her cell phone, according to police reports. The victim told police she grabbed the cell phone from her niece and told the child to run away, according to police reports.

The victim reportedly told officers she attempted to call the police, but Watson’s friend, later identified as Joshua Benitez, 17, of Lorton, Va. grabbed the phone from her and physically assaulted her. The victim told police Watson handed the shotgun to another friend, later identified as Alexis Cabrera, 17, of Lorton, Va. The witness told police Watson then attempted to rob her of her wallet, but she was able to get away.

According to City Watch footage, Watson enters the screen frame carrying the black shotgun by his side and physically assaulted a male victim by striking him in the face, according to police reports. Watson then allegedly handed the shotgun to Cabrera and continued to argue with the victim. The footage also revealed Benitez assaulting the female victim and taking the cell phone.

According to police reports, another male victim, possibly the female victim’s boyfriend, attempted to run after Benitez. Watson chased the male victim and struck and kicked him all in the same motion. One witness reportedly told police they heard the pumping and wracking the shotgun. After Watson handed the shotgun to Cabrera, he ran from the Boardwalk, which is when he was first encountered by the bicycle officer responding to the scene.

According to witnesses, Cabrera, Benitez and a third suspect, later identified as Micah Younger, 18, of Manassas, Va., left the area with the shotgun in a silver Honda. A short time later, Maryland State Police located the suspect vehicle in West Ocean City and initiated a traffic stop. Inside the vehicle were Cabrera, Younger and Benitez. The MSP trooper also observed the shotgun in plain view in the vehicle.

OCPD officers brought one of the victims to the traffic stop and the victim positively identified Younger, Cabrera and Benitez. In summary, the initial officer learned Watson, Cabrera, Benitez and Younger were all involved in the armed robbery and the various assaults during the incident captured on City Watch. The investigation revealed the shotgun was held by each of the suspects as they passed it around during the incident, according to police reports. The investigation revealed all four suspects were allegedly engaged actively in the various assaults and armed robbery.

Watson, Cabrera, Benitez and Younger were each charged with armed robbery and multiple counts of first- and second-degree assault. Last week, Cabrera had all of the charges against him placed on the stet, or inactive, docket. In November, Younger had the armed robbery and first-degree assault charges against him dismissed. He still faces three counts of second-degree assault with a trial date tentatively set for February. Benitez has a juvenile waiver hearing tentatively set for Feb. 1.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.