Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick was sworn into office on January 1, 2017. He immediately faced daunting challenges. The three district attorneys before him (Jane Duty, John Bradley, and Ken Anderson) all had serious problems with confirmed instances of prosecutorial misconduct.
Dick also inherited the controversial wrongful conviction Greg Kelley case—the conviction of an innocent man due to a corrupt police investigation compounded by DA Duty and her staff’s prosecutorial misconduct. It is unfortunate, but likely that Duty’s personal and professional shame incurred from her handling of the Kelley case and previously sanctioned misconduct contributed to her April 2019 suicide.
Besides confronting a District Attorney’s Office whose professional integrity was under a dark cloud because of his predecessors’ political corruption, Dick also knew there were serious problems in Williamson County law enforcement.
Police Chief Forced to Resign
Cedar Park Police Chief Sean Mannix and Detective Christopher Dailey were forced to resign because of their corrupt investigation and evidence handling in the Greg Kelley case. A civil lawsuit and a criminal investigation request were subsequently brought against the two disgraced law enforcement officers.
While the Greg Kelley saga was being played out before Showtime’s Outcry cameras, Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody was playing to the cameras of the A&E reality TV show Live PD.
In March 2019, the show’s cameras caught Chody’s deputies notice an SUV driven by Javier Ambler failing to dim its headlights for oncoming traffic. The deputies, with A&E’s Live PD cameras rolling, stopped and detained the father of two and, over the next 28 minutes, forced him to lay on the ground while they tased him four times as he pleaded for mercy. The 48-year-old former postal worker cried out “save me” before the fourth and final shock from the taser took his life.
Williamson County Sheriff Indicted
This past June, Dick and Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore opened a joint investigation after local Austin media reported that Live PD destroyed its footage of the Ambler detention and ensuing death.
On September 20, 2020, a Williamson County grand jury announced its indictment of Sheriff Chody on allegations of evidence tampering connected with the reality cop show’s destruction of the Ambler incident’s film footage.
The Williamson County indictment may not be the only legal liability the sheriff will face. DA Moore said she is investigating additional felony evidence tampering charges for events related to events that happened in Travis County on the night Ambler died.
Chody is facing reelection on November 3, 2020.
District Attorney Dick had this to say about the timing of the sheriff’s indictment:
“I have thought long and hard about the timing, and let’s make it very clear: We didn’t choose this timing,” the DA said. “The incident happened a long time ago, but the Williamson County district attorney’s office was just notified in May 2020 of the death of Javier Ambler.”
Facing the third-degree felony charge, Sheriff Chody, who surrendered himself and was released on a $10,000 bond, could face up to two years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Sheriff’s Department Under Investigation for Excessive Force
In addition to these legal problems, the Texas Rangers are investigating five of Chody’s deputies for the use of excessive force in connection with a 911 domestic violence incident in September 2019.
And, as if allegations are not troubling enough, Sheriff Chody’s has come under intense media scrutiny for hiring deputies “with tarnished badges”—those forced to resign from other police departments before being fired for misconduct.
Sheriff Chody has managed to accumulate a national reputation as the archetypical corrupt, southern sheriff, who takes vengeance to the extreme and destroys lives in the process. In February 2019, NBC’s Late Night host Seth Meyers mocked Sheriff Chody, who was not particularly pleased with being the butt of Meyers’ humor, with this description:
“A Texas sheriff has placed cardboard cutouts of officers holding radar guns on the side of several roads to deter speeding. And even one of those managed to shoot a black guy.”
In November, voters will have a chance to decide if they want to keep Chody, or change course and elect a responsible, law-abiding Sheriff. Change is definitely needed in Williamson County.