Arthur Watkins, 55, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, former president of the Arroyo Grande Rotary Club, a father of two young children, and, as of Nov. 16, an alleged bank robber.
Police allege that Watkins, wearing a ski mask and brandishing a .45-caliber Glock handgun, robbed the Wells Fargo Bank on East Main Street in Santa Maria on Nov. 16. He allegedly ran off with more than $950 in cash, pointed the gun at a pursuing officer during a foot chase, and was arrested minutes later in the Sears parking lot across the street.
That wasn’t the end of the robbery, however. Santa Maria Police Dept. Lt. Kim Graham said that Watkins dropped the bag of cash during the pursuit and a random passerby picked it up, speeding away with the money in his car.
After obtaining the car’s license plate number from an observant citizen, SMPD officers arrested Jose Villa Mendez, 19, of Santa Maria, on the evening of Nov. 16. Graham said officers recovered nearly the full amount of money that was initially stolen and there was no indication that the suspects were working in unison.
“We had a lot of luck with this one,” Graham told New Times. “There were a lot of rare occurrences—we got the 911 call during the robbery, we had an officer located very close to the robbery, no shots were fired, we apprehended both men quickly, and we recovered almost all of the money.”
On Nov. 19, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office charged Mendez with two felonies: grand theft and possession of stolen property.
Watkins, for his part, was charged with seven felonies by the D.A.’s office: burglary, five counts of robbery (one for each bank employee), and brandishing a firearm at a police officer.
Arroyo Grande photographer and community organizer Vivian Krug said she knew Watkins—who worked as a family therapist at Arroyo Grande’s Village Counseling Center and goes by “Clay”—from various city events and functions, and was shocked to hear the news.
“I didn’t even believe it at first,” Krug told New Times. “I checked the news several times just to make sure it was him. He was such a mild-mannered, nice, and giving person.”
Krug said that Watkins is a dedicated banjo player, longtime community volunteer, and a family man who often proudly shared the exploits of his young son and daughter on Facebook.
Both men were arraigned in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria on Nov. 19, and Watkins’ arraignment was continued until Nov. 26. As of press time, the Village Counseling Center website had been taken offline.