On May 9, 1934, members of the International Longshoremen's Association struck ports and steamship lines on the West Coast for recognition, wages, and working conditions. Violence between strikers, strike breakers, and local police erupted, resulting in deaths in San Francisco and on Puget Sound. Seattle Police, assisted by 200 special deputies sworn into service by the King County Sheriff, mobilized to break the strike. The opposing forces confronted one another daily. Typically, men deputized for special purposes received no training and were paid a daily wage for their service.
On July 9, 1934, strikers encountered a carload of special deputies at 3rd Avenue and Seneca Street in Seattle. The deputies' car was overturned and Watson was found dead, shot with his own gun. A coroner's inquest failed to identify the person(s) responsible.