Two former employees of a Texas sheriff's office say leaders rewarded officers with steakhouse gift cards when they used force on the job.
The Texas Rangers and the Williamson County prosecutor's office are investigating at least five use-of-force incidents involving the Williamson County sheriff's office in suburban Austin. A former deputy whose use of force is under investigation told investigators about the gift cards in a recorded interview obtained by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV. A second former deputy confirmed the account to the outlets.
Deputies who received the gift cards include two involved in the 2019 death of Javier Ambler, according to former deputy Christopher Pisa.
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The two deputies, J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden, repeatedly used stun guns on the 40-year-old Black man, despite his pleas that he was sick and couldn't breathe. Pisa did not say what incident led to Cmdr. Steve Deaton giving Johnson and Camden the gift cards, and the investigator did not ask, according to the Statesman.
Former Sgt. Troy Brogden, who resigned from the department in 2019, corroborated Pisa's allegation, telling the newspaper and TV station that Deaton gave the cards "for what he considered good uses of force." Deaton resigned from the department last year after facing criticism for Facebook posts making light of date rape, kidnapping and the amputation of a black football player.
Sheriff Robert Chody said in a statement: "Literally, the only use of cards I recall specifically was for a deputy who was able to recover some excellent fingerprints that ended up helping an investigation resulting in a warrant for that suspect and for a capture of a burglary suspect."
"I have no idea what `good use of force' means," Chody said.
Incidents that the Texas Rangers and local prosecutors are investigating include a violent arrest that was broadcast on "Live PD" and a deputy's attack on a 20-year-old domestic violence victim.
One incident involved an April 2019 traffic stop Pisa conducted in which he used force on an African American woman. Details were not released, but Pisa said that afterward he had expected to receive a gift card from his supervisors.
Law enforcement experts said they were alarmed by the allegations.
"That makes no sense to me at all," said Jeff Noble, a retired deputy chief with the Irvine, California, Police Department and a national policing expert. "The incentive is, `Let's go out and use more force so we can get more gift cards.' The fear is that you are (rewarding) bad behavior."
Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick declined to comment to the outlets because of ongoing investigation.