A former sheriff’s deputy in Texas is blowing the whistle on a practice in which officers in Williamson County were rewarded with gift cards to a local steakhouse for using force on the job.
The Austin American-Statesman reported the startling practice after getting a recorded interview with the former sheriff’s deputy, Christopher Pisa.
He described deputies who used force as “WilCo” badasses, and made it clear the directive was coming from the top.
“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,” Pisa said in the recording.
Another former officer identified Commander Steve Deaton as a superior officer who would sign off on the gift cards to Logan’s Roadhouse.
According to the Austin American Statesman, former Sgt. Troy Brogden said that practices that Deaton called “good uses of force” were rewarded not only with gifts to the steakhouse, but to other area restaurants.
“He would talk about it in groups, including supervisors meetings and classes,” Brogden told the news outlet. “I was like, ‘What the hell?’”
J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden were allegedly among those in the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office who received gift cards. The two were involved in the death of 40-year-old Black man Javier Ambler in March 2019.
Body camera footage of the incident was released in June in which Ambler could be heard telling officers he had a heart condition and that he couldn't breathe while they restrained him and allegedly used a stun gun on him during an arrest. The footage was obtained by the American Statesman.
The sheriff in the county, Robert Chody, told the American-Statesman in a statement that “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.”
Attorneys for the two deputies involved in the Ambler case did not comment on whether they received gift cards from the sheriff’s office, according to the American-Statesman.
The Williamson County district attorney also declined to provide a statement to the local outlet due to ongoing investigations into the police department's use-of-force practices.
This story was updated at 11:03 a.m. Sept. 22.