A Texas law enforcement agency rewarded deputies who use excessive force on the job with gift cards, according to two former employees, one of whom reported the practice to Texas Rangers who are investigating the agency.
Williamson County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office Commander Steve Deaton gifted the dangerous officers, who he described as “WilCo badass” with gift cards to restaurants such as Logan’s Roadhouse. To make matters worse, among the deputies who received gift cards were J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden, the officers involved in the March 2019 murder of Javier Ambler, a 40-year-old Black father who was Tased four times as he pleaded with the ruthless officers that he had a heart condition and couldn’t breathe.
“They had the intention that we were all ‘WilCo badass’ and if you went out there and did your job, and you had to use force on somebody, and he agreed with it, then you would get a gift card,” former Deputy Christopher Pisa said in a recorded interview with Texas Rangers, which was obtained by the Austin American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Former Sergeant Troy Brogden also backed Pisa’s claims that Deaton awarded the cards “for what he considered good uses of force.” Brogden resigned from the department last year after 20 years with the agency, where he was a supervisor overseeing major cases in the criminal investigations division.
“He would talk about it in groups, including supervisors meetings and classes,” Brogden said. “I was like, ‘What the hell?’”
Law enforcement experts are alarmed that a police department is seemingly encouraging and praising the use of excessive force.
“That makes no sense to me at all,” said national policing expert Jeff Noble, a retired deputy chief with the Irvine, Calif., police department. “The incentive is, ‘Let’s go out and use more force so we can get more gift cards.’ The fear is that you are incentivizing bad behavior.”
The sheriff’s office has fallen under scrutiny recently after a plethora of questionable practices, including hiring deputies with shaky pasts and engaging in unnecessary high-speed chases. The agency’s participation in the reality show “Live PD” last year also placed them under surveillance until producers canceled the show in June, two days after the Statesman revealed details of Ambler’s death and the shocking fact that the show destroyed footage of the killing.
In the meantime, Sheriff Robert Chody refutes the claims of rewarding officers for using force.
“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,” he said before adding “I have no idea what ‘good use of force’ means.”
Texas Rangers and the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office are currently investigating at least five excessive force incidents involving Williamson County deputies, including another violent arrest that was captured on “Live PD” and a deputy’s attack on a 20-year-old domestic violence victim.