At the center of the revelation is Steve Deaton, a former commander of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office who retired from his post in September 2019. Deaton’s departure from the force came months after social media posts shared by him surfaced showing dolls depicting rape, kidnapping and the mutilation of a Black football player.
The gift card allegation came up in interviews conducted by officials with the Texas Rangers law enforcement agency who were investigating the Williamson County Sheriff's Office’s history of aggressive tactics used on the job. Christopher Pisa, a former deputy with the sheriff’s office, said in one of those interviews that Deaton shelled out gift cards to deputies he had considered to be “WilCo bada**.”
Pisa revealed that the use of gift cards to places such as steakhouse Logan’s Roadhouse was “common knowledge” at the department, and that Deaton himself was responsible for reviewing use of force incidents and deciding whom to reward.
“They had the intention that we were all ‘WilCo bada**’ 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 an audio recording obtained by the Austin American-Statesman.
“It was something everybody knew,” Pisa continued. “He has even said it to people in meetings.”
When one of the Texas Rangers asked for clarification on the allegation, Pisa explained that the gift cards were only dispensed for incidents in which “a good use of force” was documented. It’s unclear what qualified as “a good use of force.”
Pisa himself came under investigation by the Texas Rangers over an April 2019 traffic stop in which the former deputy used force on a Black woman, the American-Statesman noted. The deputy was interviewed by the Texas Rangers six months after he resigned as a result of the April stop.
Although Pisa did state that he anticipated a gift card for himself after the April traffic stop, it’s unclear whether he actually received one from Deaton.
The American-Statesman did report that J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden, the two officers involved in the March 2019 in-custody death of Javier Ambler, both reportedly received gift cards. However, Pisa neither specifically stated that Johnson and Camden earned the cards for their use of force in the Ambler case, nor was he asked by officials to specify for which incidents the two were rewarded.
Johnson and Camden are both still active deputies on the force.
In response to the allegations, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody rejected claims that deputies were incentivized to use force, telling the outlet that to his knowledge, gift cards were only ever given out when a deputy recovered “excellent fingerprints” for an investigation that led to the capture of a suspect.
“I have no idea what ‘good use of force’ means,” Chody told the publication.
Chody, however, is no stranger to being under the microscope. He was recently called on to resign, with Williamson County Commissioner Terry Cook publicly saying that “the last three-and-a-half-years of [Chody] at the helm are unacceptable.”
This development is just the latest in a slew of issues to stem from the department, which also raised concerns when Chody signed his own contract sometime March 2020 with reality police show “Live PD” after Williamson County commissioners voted to end the partnership in August 2019. The show was later canceled in June, just days after it was reported that footage of Ambler’s death was recorded by the camera team, but was later destroyed.