WEST ORANGE — A police officer was fired after telling a fellow officer his fantasy about shooting people with a rifle from the top of a tower.

Michael Watts lost his job April 2013 following an embattled decade-long career during which he was suspended, disciplined and transferred numerous times.

The last straw appeared to be his gruesome comments about killing people.

“This is a great place to pick people off. I miss being behind the scope of a rifle,” a fellow officer quoted Watts as saying on October 2012.

“Did you know there is a perfect spot at the top of 80 Main St. to pick people off from the rear of headquarters?” Sgt. John Morella claimed that Watts told him. “But don’t worry, you are not on that list. I will call you and tell you to call out sick the day that I do it and I will call Rolli, too.”

Watts’s comments were investigated and officials determined that he should be fired.

Disciplinary actions against police officers are usually confidential and kept from the public. But the accusations against Watts came to light because he filed a whistleblower lawsuit against this Essex County township. A Superior Court judge dismissed his lawsuit in March 2016. Watts then lost an appeal of that decision in February.

It is not clear from the court record whether Watts continues to possess his own personal firearms or whether he has a permit to carry firearms in the street. In New Jersey, records of gun ownership or gun permits are not public.

To obtain a gun carry permit, however, a gun owner would have to seek an endorsement from their local law enforcement agency and approval by a Superior Court judge. Former police officers seeking gun carry permits would need their former chief to affirm that the officer retired "in good standing.”

Neither West Orange Chief James Abbot nor Watts’ attorney returned requests seeking comment for this story.

Watts filed his whistleblower lawsuit in 2012, claiming that superior officers, upset over a contract dispute, were urging rank and file officers to not issue tickets so that the municipality would lose revenue. He said officials retaliated after he complained.

An internal affairs investigation interviewed 100 cops and none knew about the work-stoppage scheme, department officials said.

Investigators, however, did find fault with Watts.

In August 2012, Sgt. William Varanelli told a lieutenant that he believed Watts was unfit for duty.

A month later, the mayor received a citizen’s complaint accusing Watts of being a “bully officer.”

In November 2012, he was ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation, which concluded that he was unfit for duty. In December, he was suspended without pay and charged with violating several departmental rules. In March 2013, a workplace hearing officer determined agreed that Watts was unfit and could be fired.

The appellate decision in February says the trial judge was right to dismiss his complaint because he could not show that he faced false accusations or underserving negative reviews.

The decision adds that Watts never disputed that he made the alarming statements to his coworker.

“These undisputed statements alone would form a sustainable basis for his termination.”

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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