A former Texas sheriff’s deputy says one of his superiors gave steakhouse gift cards to officers who used force.
The recipients allegedly included two officers who were involved in a fatal arrest last year of a Black man who repeatedly pleaded that he couldn’t breathe as he was tased.
Christopher Pisa, a former deputy at the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, told Texas Rangers last year that the gift cards were “something everybody knew about,” according to the Austin American-Statesman, which obtained audio of that conversation from Pisa’s lawyer. The Texas Rangers and the local prosecutor’s officer are investigating at least five use-of-force incidents, including an April 2019 traffic stop in which Pisa used force on a Black woman, according to the Associated Press. The full details of that incident are still unclear.
Pisa told investigators he thought he was going to receive a gift card from Cmdr. Steve Deaton because of his use-of-force incident. Pisa added that while he had never seen the gift cards, he had heard from other deputies who were rewarded with them.
Another ex-officer from the same department, former Sgt. Troy Brogden, backed up Pisa’s gift card allegation in an interview with the Statesman, saying Deaton would talk about the presents for “good” use of force in meetings and classes.
Pisa, Brogden, and Deaton have since left the embattled department. Brogden resigned last year, while Pisa left the department after a use-of-force incident prompted a criminal investigation, according to the Statesman. Deaton resigned in September 2019 after coming under fire for social media posts that depicted rape, amputating a Black football player for taking a knee during the national anthem, kidnapping, and sexual harassment — all using Barbie and Elf on the Shelf dolls, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
About a month after Deaton’s resignation, in October 2019, Pisa told the Texas Rangers that Deaton would sometimes provide gift cards to those who were a “WilCo badass,” and that a “couple deputies” had received them for the sort of “good” use of force that Deaton agreed with.
“People got gift cards for good use of forces, and I’ve known other officers who received gift cards for that,” Pisa said, adding that some of the gift cards were for Logan’s Roadhouse.
He named deputies J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden as two alleged recipients of the gift cards.
The officers were involved in the fatal March 2019 arrest of Javier Ambler II, whom they tried to pull over for failing to dim his headlights. The deputies, who were riding with the cable reality show “Live PD” at the time, chased Ambler for more than 20 minutes until he crashed his Honda Pilot, according to KVUE, a local ABC affiliate.
They tased the 40-year-old father, who informed officers that he had congestive heart failure, at least three times as they tried to place him in handcuffs. After successfully placing Ambler in handcuffs, deputies realized he was unresponsive and called in emergency medical services, according to body camera footage.
A few months later, the two deputies were part of a group of five Williamson County officers that punched and tased a white man after he tried to flee a traffic stop over a missing front license plate, according to the Statesman. An internal review determined that the deputies had acted according to department policy, since the man was allegedly aggressive and disobedient, according to the Statesman, although Camden was counseled over his use of profanity during the incident. That arrest, Like Ambler’s death, was captured by “Live PD” cameras, according to the Statesman. (“Live PD” was canceled in June in the midst of the nationwide reckoning over police brutality.)
Pisa didn’t specify whether it was Ambler’s arrest that triggered the alleged gift cards for Johnson and Camden or another use-of-force incident, according to the Statesman.
Both Johnson and Camden remain on the force, according to the Statesman, and their attorneys declined to comment about the gift card allegations to the paper.
The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment, but Sheriff Robert Chody told the Statesman he wasn’t aware of the gift cards that Pisa had alleged were used as rewards.
“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,” Chody told the Statesman.
Cover: A generic picture of a police belt on a police officer at Heathrow airport. (Photo by Tim Ockenden - PA Images/PA Images via Getty