Investigation Shows Sheriff's Department Rewarded Deputies With Gift Cards For Deploying Force
from the too-much-power-concentrated-in-one-place dept
A Texas Sheriff’s Office with a history of questionable hiring practices and a fondness for excessive force deployment has covered itself with infamy again. The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office was formerly best known for appearing on Live PD, a “Cops” knockoff that followed deputies around as they enforced the law and — on one occasion — tased someone to death in front of Live PD’s cameras. (A&E “helpfully” destroyed the footage.)
This led to some speculation that Sheriff Robert Chody was hiring deputies that would make for must-see TV, rather than good public servants. Questionable work histories were ignored if candidates appeared willing to engage in aggressive tactics with the cameras rolling. Sheriff Chody’s quest to find TV stars resulted in things like the following:
Mark Luera joined the force in November 2017, about 10 months before TV cameras began rolling on patrols in the largely suburban county north of Austin, Texas.
“A true leader,” Chody captioned a selfie of the two in June 2019. In another post, Chody called Luera a “Wilco Rock Star.”
The department’s star is also a disgraced former city of Austin police officer whom Chody hired days after the city had been set to fire him for using his special airport access to bypass security, then repeatedly lying about it.
The bad news keeps coming. An investigation into use-of-force incidents by deputies has uncovered another unseemly fact about the Sheriff’s Office. A culture of violence has been carefully cultivated by Office officials — one that appears to lead directly to incidents like the one caught on Live PD’s cameras. One “good” beating equals a free meal. That’s the mindset of the WCSO.
Williamson County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office leaders rewarded deputies who used force on the job with steakhouse gift cards, according to two former employees, one of whom made the admission to Texas Rangers investigating the agency’s aggressive tactics.
Among the deputies who received gift cards to places such as Logan’s Roadhouse were J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden, the officers involved in the March 2019 death of Javier Ambler. The Black 40-year-old father was Tased four times as he shouted that he had a heart condition and could not breathe.
In a recorded interview with Texas Rangers, former Deputy Christopher Pisa said Cmdr. Steve Deaton awarded deputies he considered “WilCo badass.”
This recording was given to the American-Statesman by Deputy Pisa’s lawyer. This allegation was immediately denied by Sheriff Chody, who claimed he has only given out one gift card for “recovering some excellent fingerprints.” This may be true. But it was apparently used by other supervisors and Chody did nothing to stop it.
Deputy Pisa’s statements allege Commander Deaton handed out cards for “good uses of force.” It was something mentioned during shift meetings so it wasn’t exactly a secret. And it’s the sort of thing you’d expect from a supervisor who left the force under his own bigoted cloud.
Deaton resigned in September 2019, months after social media posts of his surfaced with objectionable images showing dolls depicting actions, such as rape and kidnapping and the mutilation of a Black football player.
Sheriff Chody may be maintaining plausible deniability by distancing himself from this specific encouragement of bad behavior. But history shows he’s as much to blame as his recently-departed commander. If you want to turn cops into badge-wearing thugs, all you have to do in most cases is just fail to discipline them. But Chody and his supervisors appear to want to accelerate that process. And for the most ridiculous of reasons: for the TV clicks. Live PD no longer shoots in Williamson County. But the damage has been done.