Police: Suspect confesses to 7 York County robberies

York County Forensics investigators carry evidence from the condo at 1447 Riverwood Court in Rock Hill on Monday after the arrest of Phillip Fleming Watts Jr., who has confessed to seven robberies across the area.
York County Forensics investigators carry evidence from the condo at 1447 Riverwood Court in Rock Hill on Monday after the arrest of Phillip Fleming Watts Jr., who has confessed to seven robberies across the area.

YORK -- A Rock Hill man has confessed to seven robberies, including three where two clerks, a former Fort Mill mayor and a customer were shot, authorities say.

On Monday, Phillip Fleming Watts Jr., 20, whose last known address was a dormitory at Clinton Junior College, was arrested after police surrounded the lower level condo he was in with a friend. He was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill in connection with last week's shooting at Cash on the Spot, a check-cashing business on South Cherry Road, police said.

"I've been in this business 36 years," York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said. "We've worked many, many homicides. I've never worked one that was as frightening as this individual and the chaos he's caused over the last three weeks."

Police also expect to charge him in connection with six other convenience store robberies that happened in Rock Hill and Fort Mill since October.

"He confessed to seven robberies," Bryant said. "There will be multitudes of warrants on this individual."

Watts also faces other charges, including kidnapping and possession of a firearm during a violent crime in connection with the robbery and shooting at Cash on the Spot, said Lt. Tim Hager of the York County Sheriff's Office.

A weapon and ammunition were recovered Monday when Watts was arrested at Rock Hill's Riverview Villas off Riverview Road around 1:40 p.m., Bryant said.

On Monday afternoon, the road leading to the condos was flanked by two forensic trucks. Two unmarked cars were nearby.

Several neighbors gathered outside to see what was happening. Many said they were stunned to learn the man an entire community had come to fear was so close to their homes and children.

Watts enrolled at Rock Hill's Clinton Junior College in January. On Monday, Clinton President Elaine Copeland said Watts was "administratively suspended." Copeland declined further comments per the college's attorney.

Watts' arrest was credited to the Rock Hill and Fort Mill police departments teaming up with York County Sheriff's Office, the State Law Enforcement Division and York County Forensic Services Unit. They discovered his crime spree started in October -- one month after he was released from the S.C. Department of Corrections for juvenile offenses, officials said. His juvenile criminal history was not available.

In addition to Cash on the Spot, Watts confessed to the robberies at John Boy's Valero in Fort Mill; Saltwater Seafood Market; Valero convenience store on Anderson Road; One Stop Exxon on Main Street; and two robberies at Valero convenience store at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and White Street, Bryant said.

On Feb. 14, Ida Neal Lord was shot in the back and head as she stood in the lobby at Cash on the Spot. On Monday morning, Lord was in serious condition at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, but she was downgraded to critical condition later Monday night, a hospital spokeswoman said.

On Feb. 5, former Fort Mill Mayor Charlie Powers was shot in the face and clerk Yen Nguyen was shot in the stomach during a robbery at John Boy's Valero. Powers was released the next morning from CMC. No information was available on Nguyen, who was listed as serious last Wednesday, a CMC spokeswoman said.

On Jan. 28, Ping Chen was shot in her right shoulder and left hand when she attempted to shield her face during a robbery at the Saltwater Seafood Market in Rock Hill. She since has returned to work.

In the latter incidents, both clerks complied, police said.

"You always tell people to cooperate when they're being robbed," Rock Hill Police Chief John Gregory said. "Everyone was cooperating, but he decided to use a gun. That took it to another level."

The rash of shootings left clerks across the county leery. Some business owners posted signs stating "no hoodies allowed on head while in store." Some clerks brought weapons to work with them. Others worked in fear.

The shooting kept Cash on the Spot manager Marsha Boyd away from her job of nearly nine years. Boyd saw the gun go off when Lord was shot twice.

Now, she's relieved as she prepares for Wednesday, her first full day since the incident.

"He's off the street," Boyd said. "He can't hurt anybody else."

Watts, whose bond was not set Monday night, remained in custody at Moss Justice Detention Center in York.