By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – Hot Springs businessman Rodney Watts, age 55, is facing two felonies and two misdemeanors, following an incident which allegedly took place on his boat July 4, 2023, when it was parked on a public beach at Angostura Recreation Area.
The felony charges include one count of Solicitation of Minor, which is a Class 4 and carries a punishment of up to 10 years of imprisonment and up to a $20,000; and one count of Promoting Prostitution, which is a Class 5 and carries a punishment of up to five years of imprisonment and an optional fine of $10,000. The two misdemeanors are both Class 1 offenses for Prostitution and carry a maximum of up to one year's imprisonment and $2,000 in fines
Watts, and his attorney Timothy Rensch of Rapid City, were in the Fall River County Courtroom last Wednesday, Sept. 6, for the preliminary hearing where States Attorney Lance Russell brought forth a 16-year-old female witness, who was 15 at the time of the alleged incident, and is who filed the complaint against Watts. She took the stand and spoke for approximately 20 minutes while being asked questions by both Russell and Rensch.
A second 15-year-old female witness, who also filed a complaint against Watts in regards to the same alleged incident on July 4, has since died as the result of a traffic-related accident last month. The Solicitation of a Minor felony charges brought forth from her complaint were dismissed by the prosecution due to its inability to establish her age through in-court testimony.
Following the one witness's testimony, Magistrate Judge Todd Hyronimus determined there to be probable cause to move forward with the case and asked for an arraignment to be scheduled in Circuit Court next month. However, due to Watts' attorney Rensch's busy schedule, that arraignment was postponed until Dec. 1, 2023, at 9 a.m.
During her testimony, the now-16-year old witness said she arrived at the Angostura Recreation Area with several of her friends on July 4 between 9 and 10 a.m. After hanging out on the beach for most of the day, she and another girl, whom she said was also 15-years-old at the time, began walking on the beach near the parked boats which is when they spotted some other girls one of them knew talking to a man at a house boat. While on the stand in the court room, the witness then identified the man at the boat as being Rodney Watts.
The witness and her friend, whom she had just met that day, approached the boat and stepped up onto its ledge. It was at that time, she said, Watts offered her money in exchange for flashing her breasts and performing oral sex. The witness said she and her friend declined the offer but Watts persisted and asked again, this time offering $100 for 15 minutes or $200 for 30 minutes. They again declined and then left the boat.
During Rensch's cross examination, more details about the alleged incident and the witness were brought forth, including the fact that she was currently incarcerated at the Juvenile Detention Center in Rapid City for a Driving Under the Influence offense. Also, at the time of the alleged incident at Angostura on July 4, she had been drinking Twisted Teas and was in possession of a can of the alcoholic beverage when she approached Watts' boat. In total, the witness admitted to drinking three cans of the Twisted Tea that day.
The witness said Watts' offer to her occurred in the first two minutes of stepping onto his boat and the entire conversation with him lasted a total of five or six minutes before she and her friend left the boat. After leaving the boat, the witness and her friend went up the nearby steps on the beach because they saw one of the other girl's friends being arrested, which is also when they reported the alleged incident with Watts to law enforcement.
Also during Rensch's cross examination, he asked the witness if it was true that Watts had offered her $5 for her Twisted Tea and also if she had asked him for money in exchange for showing her breasts. Both of which were things Watts had stated occurred when he spoke to law enforcement in his initial interview with them at the beach on July 4. The witness however denied either of those took place.
According to a Game, Fish & Parks Report of Investigation about the alleged July 4 incident, multiple statements were taken from other witnesses at the beach that day which collaborated with the complaint filed against Watts. This evidence then prompted law enforcement to escort Watts from his houseboat to the Breakers Beach parking lot and place him under arrest for Solicitation of a Minor. Watts' wife Barb, who was also on the house boat, was allowed to stay overnight in the boat on the beach “due to being heavily intoxicated.”
Court records show Rodney Watts was released from Fall River County jail on July 5 after he posted a $2,500 bond.
Watts' attorney Rensch made an earlier statement last month that his client categorically denies the charges against him and they look forward to proving his innocence in court.