SAN JOSE, Calif. — A gunman who killed nine people at a California rail yard where he worked appeared to target some of the victims, a sheriff told The Associated Press on Thursday, while a Biden administration official said the shooter spoke of hating his workplace when customs officers detained him after a 2016 trip to the Philippines.Samuel Cassidy, 57, arrived at the light rail facility for the Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose around 6 a.m. Wednesday with a duffel bag filled with semi-automatic handguns and high-capacity magazines, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said.
“It appears to us at this point that he said to one of the people there: ‘I’m not going to shoot you,'” Smith said. “And then he shot other people. So I imagine there was some kind of thought on who he wanted to shoot.”
While there are no cameras inside the rail yard’s two buildings, Smith said footage captured him moving from one location to the next. It took deputies six minutes from the first 911 calls to find Cassidy on the third floor of one of the buildings, Smith said.
He killed himself as deputies closed in on the facility serving the county of more than one million people in the heart of Silicon Valley. More than 100 people were there at the time, and authorities found five victims in one building and two in another, Smith said.
Authorities do not yet know whether Cassidy worked regularly with any of the victims. Sheriff’s officials described him as “a highly disgruntled VTA employee for many years,” which may have contributed to him targeting those workers.
“I’m not sure we’ll ever actually find the real motive, but we’ll piece it together as much as we can from witnesses,” Smith said.
After being detained in 2016, Cassidy was found to have a memo book with notes on how he hated the Valley Transportation Authority, according to a Biden administration official who described a Department of Homeland Security memo laying out Cassidy’s statements. The official saw the memo and detailed its contents to The Associated Press but was not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the memo.
The memo doesn’t say why he was stopped by customs officers. It said he had books about “terrorism and fear and manifestos” but when he was asked whether he had issues with people at work, he said no. It notes that Cassidy had a “minor criminal history” and cites a 1983 arrest in San Jose and charges of “misdemeanor obstruction/resisting a peace officer.”
Cassidy’s ex-wife said he had talked about killing people at work more than a decade ago. Documents show he had worked at the transit authority since at least 2012.
“I never believed him, and it never happened. Until now,” a tearful Cecilia Nelms told the AP on Wednesday.
She said he used to come home from work resentful and angry over what he perceived as unfair assignments.
“He could dwell on things,” she said. The two were married for about 10 years until a 2005 divorce filing, and she had not been in touch with Cassidy for about 13 years, Nelms said.The three 9 mm handguns he had appear to be legal, sheriff’s officials said. Authorities do not yet know how he obtained them.
He also had 32 high-capacity magazines, some with 12 rounds. In California, it is illegal to buy magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. However, if Cassidy obtained them before Jan. 1, 2000, he would have been allowed to have them unless he was otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms.
The sheriff said authorities found explosives at the gunman’s home, where investigators believe he had set a timer or slow-burn device so that a fire would occur at the same time as the shooting. Flames were reported minutes after the first 911 calls came in from the rail facility.
The attack was the 15th mass killing in the U.S. this year, all shootings that claimed at least four lives each for a total of 87 deaths, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.
President Joe Biden urged Congress to act on legislation to curb gun violence, saying, “Every life that is taken by a bullet pierces the soul of our nation. We can, and we must, do more.”
Several long-time employees were killed, many of whom worked together.
“Whatever happened yesterday, it shows the character of these guys how they tried to save others while going through that chaotic situation,” light rail superintendent Naunihal Singh said.
The victims were Alex Ward Fritch, 49; Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; Taptejdeep Singh, 36; Adrian Balleza, 29; Jose Dejesus Hernandez, 35; Timothy Michael Romo, 49; Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40; Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63, and Lars Kepler Lane, 63.
Family and friends remembered Taptejdeep Singh as a hero. He called another transit employee to warn him about Cassidy, saying he needed to get out or hide.
“He told me he was with Paul, another victim, at the time,” co-worker Sukhvir Singh, who is not related to Taptejdeep Singh, said in a statement. “From what I’ve heard, he spent the last moments of his life making sure that others – in the building and elsewhere – would be able to stay safe.”
Transit authority officials held a tearful moment of silence Thursday, reading aloud the the names of the victims next to a giant poster board with their photos.
“I, unfortunately, get to know personally how these nine families have felt this past night, this morning with just a sense of disbelief, with a hope that your loved one is still going to come home and knowing that that’s just never going to happen again,” said Raul Peralez, a San Jose councilman and lifelong friend of Rudometkin, one of the victims.
A vigil for the victims was planned Thursday evening in San Jose.While public records show Cassidy faced nothing more serious than a traffic ticket in 2019, an ex-girlfriend described him in court documents filed in 2009 as volatile and violent, with major mood swings because of bipolar disorder that became worse when he drank heavily.
Several times while he was drunk, Cassidy forced himself on her sexually despite her refusals, pinning her arms with his body weight, the woman said in a sworn statement filed after Cassidy sought a restraining order against her. The documents were obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Cassidy had worked for Valley Transportation Authority since at least 2012, according to the public payroll and pension database Transparent California, first as a mechanic from 2012 to 2014, then maintaining substations.
Officials investigated a house fire that broke out shortly before the shooting, sheriff’s Deputy Russell Davis said. Public records show Cassidy owned the two-story home where firefighters responded after being notified by a passerby.
The gunman probably “set some kind of a device to go off at a certain time probably to coincide with the shooting,” the sheriff told “Today.”
Doug Suh, who lives across the street, told The Mercury News in San Jose that Cassidy seemed “strange” and that he never saw anyone visit.
“I’d say hello, and he’d just look at me without saying anything,” Suh said. Once, Cassidy yelled at him to stay away as he was backing up his car. “After that, I never talked to him again.”
Wednesday’s attack was the deadliest shooting in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1993, when a gunman attacked law offices in San Francisco’s Financial District, killing eight people before taking his own life.
It also was Santa Clara County’s second mass shooting in less than two years. A gunman killed three people and then himself at a popular garlic festival in Gilroy in July 2019.
Associated Press video journalist Terry Chea in San Jose and writers Janie Har in San Francisco, John Antczak and Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles, and Michael Balsamo and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.
Author: Jody Barr
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin
AUSTIN (KXAN) — If Williamson County Sheriff’s deputies wanted Asher Watsky, they could have easily gotten him. The sheriff’s courthouse security team checked Watsky for weapons when he walked through the front doors of the courthouse and made his way to Judge Donna King’s courtroom.
Deputies had a warrant for Watsky at the time. Watsky was just feet away from the sheriff’s jail door on May 2, 2019 when he showed up with his attorney for a court hearing at the district courthouse in Georgetown.
Despite the outstanding warrant, dated April 17, 2019, Watsky left the courthouse that day as freely as he arrived.
Hours later, the Williamson County Sheriff’s SWAT team was bearing down on Watsky’s Cedar Park home. The team, in a coordinated militarized effort, lined up outside the home and detonated a flash bang grenade, then broke down the front and back doors of Watsky’s father’s home.
At least one ‘Live PD’ camera crew was along for the ride recording for the now-canceled A&E reality show. The broadcast showed SWAT’s arrival, which included a camera operator riding along on an armored vehicle with former Williamson County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Mark Luera.
“He (Asher Watsky) strangled his roommate, or attempted to strangle, with a full-sized shovel,” Luera told Live PD as he rode toward Watsky’s home on the national broadcast. “Obviously he’s got a background of violence,” which led to the sheriff’s office decision to use SWAT to arrest Watsky this way Luera claimed, while holding onto the back of the SWAT truck ahead of the May 2, 2019 raid.
The warrant was a no-knock warrant, the type that didn’t require the sheriff’s office to ask to be let inside, according to the federal lawsuit.
Gary Watsky, who’s listed as the plaintiff in the lawsuit, was inside when the SWAT strike happened and found himself on the business end of WCSO’s SWAT team’s assault rifles. The episode sent Watsky into a panic attack and humiliated him in front of his neighbors, the lawsuit contends.
One neighbor told Watsky at the scene his son’s arrest was being broadcast on Live PD. That’s when Watsky noticed the camera crews following the deputies around on his property. “Big Fish had no permission to trespass or film on the Plaintiff’s property,” the lawsuit stated.
Luera and a pack of 10 deputies “ransacked” Watsky’s home, including the attic, according to the lawsuit. The deputies did not have a search warrant to go through the home, the lawsuit asserted.
The raid was unnecessary and “staged,” according to Watsky’s federal lawsuit, and caused more than $ 5,000 in damage to the Watsky home.
The lawsuit lists then-Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody as a defendant. The suit also lists former WCSO Commander Steve Deaton and former Lt. Mark Luera as defendants.
The lawsuit does not identify nearly a dozen other deputies by name, listing them as “unknown” in the court filing. Watsky’s attorneys wrote they filed a public information request with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office for records showing who all participated in the 2019 raid, but were denied access to the public records on March 17, 2021.
Watsky’s attorneys accused current WSCO Sheriff Mike Gleason of violating the Texas Public Information Act by not turning the records over.
“On April 1, 2021, the current, Sheriff Mike Gleason, has acted in conformity with Sheriff Chody’s long-standing policy of obstructing justice by refusing to timely provide and properly answer a request for material evidence about the May 2, 2021 Watsky incident, including those involved, their identities, training, supervision, discipline records, body camera audio and video, and communications about the removal of the capias, as required by statute, i.e., the Texas Public Information Act,” the lawsuit stated.
Gleason told KXAN Watsky’s allegation about the records request is false.
The WCSO received an open records request from Watsky’s legal team on March 18 requesting records “from all over the place,” Gleason told KXAN. On April 1 the WCSO sent Watsky’s attorneys a response asking for clarification, which is allowable under the Texas Public Information Act. A requestor has 60 days to clarify a request or its deemed withdrawn, according to the state’s open records law.
“We never got a response,” Gleason said. The sheriff told KXAN his office has not denied Watsky’s request for information and continues to wait for clarification from Watsky’s legal team on the records sought.
A message and calls to Watsky’s legal team have not yet been returned.
Watsky’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit that former Sheriff Chody helped prevent Asher Watsky’s arrest at the courthouse earlier in the day of the May 2, 2019 raid. Chody did so by hiding the outstanding warrant from the judge, according to the lawsuit.
Had the warrant been active when Watsky appeared in court, the judge would have been alerted to its existence and ordered that Watsky be arrested in the courtroom. The plaintiff’s attorneys claim, “…upon information and belief, subject to discovery, Commander Deaton “carried out that order to remove an outstanding capias (or to render it inactive) from the judicial system’s computer, otherwise the computer system would have timely alerted Judge (Donna) King about the alleged outstanding capias.”
“And, if necessary, any arrest of Asher Watsky could have peaceably taken place at that time, in a safe environment and with low risk of harm or injury, however, that procedure would have been contrary to Sheriff Chody’s policy of reckless indifference and custom to orchestrate Big Fish “Live PD” events to justify escalating encounters for drama and entertainment purposes,” the federal lawsuit stated.
The prosecutor’s office also wasn’t aware of an outstanding warrant against Asher Watsky during the May 2019 hearing, according to Watsky’s attorneys.
As claimed in separate lawsuits against Chody and his former department, Watsky’s lawsuit asserted Chody “incited, encouraged and rewarded,” civil rights violations and use of excessive force against people who encountered his deputies.
The lawsuits claim WCSO created a reward system unofficially known as the “WilCo Bada–” which allowed deputies appearances on Live PD and provided gift cards to them.
“These violations of the oath of office occurred because the Sheriff and his deputies, always acting under the color of state law, were further encouraged by Sheriff Chody’s policies and customs to commit crimes when they saw themselves as actors for entertainment on this television series. Various deputies basked in the limelight of the accolades that come with the fame and status of aspiring celebrities, which in turn provided further motivation to create and sustain the false narratives necessary to maintain the high level of theatre-tv-drama for ratings for Big Fish and its advertisers,” Watsky’s attorneys wrote in the federal lawsuit.
“This policy also threatened the lives and security of all Williamson County citizens, particularly for entertainment value,” Watsky’s attorneys wrote in the filing.
The lawsuit claims Chody’s deputies were inadequately trained and the sheriff’s office did not properly discipline deputies for violations against citizens.
Chody did not respond to a request from KXAN seeking comment for this report. KXAN contacted Chody’s criminal attorney, Gerry Morris. Morris is not representing Chody in the civil lawsuits but said, “No we don’t,” when asked if he or Chody had any comment on the allegations in the latest filing.
“I saw all the grand jury testimony, and I don’t know where these allegations are coming from, but they’re absolutely wrong,” Morris said when contacted at his law office Friday afternoon.
Court records do not show attorneys for Luera or Deaton, and attempts to reach both men on social media were unsuccessful. Williamson County declined comment through its spokeswoman.
An Atlanta-area sheriff with a history of legal troubles faces federal civil rights charges for ordering several detainees to be strapped to restraint chairs for hours at a time even though they posed no danger to deputies, prosecutors said.
In an indictment that was unsealed on Monday, the sheriff, Clayton County’s Victor Hill, is charged with four criminal counts alleging that he used unreasonable force against four people who had been taken into custody last year by his office and violated their rights to due process.
One of them was restrained for so long without being allowed to use a restroom that he urinated on himself, according to prosecutors, who said that Sheriff Hill repeatedly made menacing comments toward several of the individuals.
Federal authorities said that the use of restraint chairs in each of the cases had violated the policies of the sheriff’s office, which stipulate that they should be used only when an inmate exhibits violent or uncontrollable behavior and other control techniques are not effective.
The indictment, which was filed on April 19 in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, also stated that Sheriff Hill sent a fugitive squad armed with handguns and AR-15 rifles last April to arrest a landscaper on a misdemeanor charge. The man had been embroiled in a billing dispute with a sheriff’s deputy over work that he had done for him.
“Badges and guns don’t come with the authority to ignore the Constitution,” Christopher Macrae, an assistant special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Atlanta field office, said in a statement on Tuesday. “They come with the responsibility to protect it from anyone who would violate it, especially another public servant.”
Sheriff Hill, 56, of Hampton, Ga., pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on Tuesday after turning himself in to the authorities. He was later released.
In a statement posted on Tuesday on Nixle, a public messaging system, Sheriff Hill called the charges against him politically motivated.
“I will continue to focus on the mission of fighting crime in Clayton County for continued success,” said Sheriff Hill, who, running as a Democrat and an independent, received more than 98 percent of the vote last year in his re-election campaign.
Federal authorities said that the first episode mentioned in the indictment took place in February 2000, when a man was taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies without incident three weeks after he allegedly assaulted two women at a grocery store.
The indictment said that Sheriff Hill had asked the man what he was doing in Clayton County, to which the man said: “It’s a democracy, sir. It’s the United States.”
“No, it’s not,” the sheriff responded, according to the indictment. “Not in my county.”
The other victims included a 17-year-old boy who was arrested on charges of vandalizing his family’s home; a man arrested after a domestic disturbance that possibly involved drug use; and the landscaper, the indictment said.
“Without justification, Sheriff Hill allegedly ordered four detainees to be strapped into restraint chairs for hours,” Kurt R. Erskine, the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said in a statement on Tuesday. “In so doing, he caused pain and injury to the detainees in his care. Such abuses of power not only harm the victims, they also erode the community’s trust in law enforcement.”
It was not immediately clear what happened in the criminal cases of the four people mentioned in the indictment — they were identified only by their initials. Prosecutors did not immediately respond to a request for further comment on Tuesday.
Drew Findling, a lawyer for Sheriff Hill, said in an interview on Tuesday that restraint chairs are readily used in jails and correctional facilities throughout the United States.
“We’re really shocked by this,” Mr. Findling said. “There’s no evidence or allegation of systematic violence.”
Mr. Findling said that the Justice Department had sent mixed messages to law enforcement officers and Americans, citing its role in a series of executions of federal inmates in the waning days of the Trump administration and what he called its muted response to high-profile police brutality cases.
In 2016, Sheriff Hill pleaded no contest after shooting and injuring a woman in a Gwinnett County model home — he and the woman said it was an accident that happened while they were practicing police tactics.
Georgia’s governor can move to suspend an elected official who is indicted while in office by convening a three-person panel under a state law. Cody Hall, a spokesman for Gov. Brian P. Kemp, said that the governor’s office had not received the indictment yet and that Mr. Kemp would have to wait 14 days before he could convene the panel.
President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he will nominate Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, a vocal skeptic of cooperating with federal immigration authorities in certain circumstances, to serve as director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
As head of ICE, Gonzalez would help oversee one of the most contentious parts of Biden’s agenda: enforcing U.S. immigration law. Biden has promised to unwind much of predecessor Donald Trump’s hardline border policies.
Gonzalez is a former Houston police officer who served on the City Council before first getting elected sheriff in 2016. He won a second four-year term in 2020. During his first term, he was a vocal critic of Trump’s approach to immigration.
In 2019, when Trump tweeted that his administration would be deporting “millions of illegal aliens,” Gonzalez posted on Facebook that the “vast majority” of undocumented immigrants do not proposed a threat to the U.S. and should not be deported.
“The focus should always be on clear & immediate safety threats,” he said.
And soon after taking office, Gonzalez ended a Harris County partnership with ICE that trained 10 deputies to specifically screen jailed individuals for immigration status and hold any selected for deportation. According to the Houston Chronicle, cutting the program still meant Harris County would hold inmates for deportation regardless of their charge, but only if ICE officials themselves made the request. According to a 2020 report by Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, ICE responded to the program’s cancelation by stationing nine ICE officers in the jail, who continued to screen and detain Harris County residents.
The program ended in late February of 2017, but between Jan. 20 and May 4 of that year, the number of people transferred into ICE custody from Harris County was 60% higher than it was for the same period in 2016. TRAC, a federal agency research center run by Syracuse University, found that Harris County received the most ICE immigration holds in both fiscal year 2018 and 2019, but it’s unclear how many resulted in deportations. The HILSC report estimated that ICE physically deported 6,612 Harris County residents in 2018.
Syracuse University found that Harris County had the third most immigrants transferred to ICE from local law enforcement in fiscal year 2018, in large part due to fingerprint records shared under the Secure Communities program. Harris County is the third most populous county in the United States.
Gonzalez also vocally opposed 2017 legislation that would prevent cities from banning local law enforcement from asking about immigration status and would push civil fines and a misdemeanor offense on law enforcement who don’t comply with federal immigration enforcement.
In a letter to the Senate Committee on State Affairs, Gonzales opposed what supporters dubbed “anti-sanctuary city” legislation, saying it would take public safety resources away from addressing other local safety issues, such as human trafficking and murder.
“I am also concerned about the risk of an unintended consequence: creating a climate of fear and suspicion that could damage our efforts to reinforce trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve,” he wrote.
Also on Tuesday, Biden said he was tapping another Texan, Gina Ortiz Jones, to be under secretary of the Air Force. Jones is a former Air Force intelligence officer who twice ran as a Democrat for one of Texas’ most competitive congressional districts.
Both positions are subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Jones would be the No. 2 civilian leader of the Air Force as under secretary. Defense News, which first reported Biden’s plan to nominate Jones, a Filipino American, said she would be the first woman of color to serve in the position.
Jones also is a member of the LGBT community and served in the Air Force under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” After her time in the Air Force, Jones went to work for the Defense Intelligence Agency and later the office of the U.S. trade representative. She ran against U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, in 2018 and lost by less than 1,000 votes. She made a second bid for the seat last year, when Hurd did not seek reelection, and lost by a wider margin to Republican Tony Gonzales.
The man, Andrew Brown Jr., was fatally wounded on Wednesday while the authorities were executing a search warrant and an arrest warrant on drug charges in Elizabeth City, officials said.
“We want transparency,” Tommy Wooten II, the Pasquotank County sheriff, said in a videotaped statement on Saturday. He emphasized that his office did not have the power to release the body-camera footage. It has been turned over to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and can be released only by a judge, he said.
Sheriff Wooten said that he had asked the State Bureau of Investigation to confirm that releasing the video would not undermine its investigation. If that confirmation is received, the county will file a motion in court — most likely on Monday — to have the footage released, he said.
“We know people want answers,” Sheriff Wooten said. “We know you’re angry. We understand and respect that. We ask for your patience and your support as we work to do the right thing.”
The office has also asked the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association to appoint an outside sheriff’s office to conduct an internal affairs investigation of everyone involved, said Daniel Fogg, the chief deputy.
Harry Daniels, a lawyer for Mr. Brown’s family, said that based on witnesses’ statements, it appeared that Mr. Brown had been shot while driving away from sheriff’s deputies. “To my understanding, Mr. Brown was not armed, and the bullets entered into the back of the vehicle,” Mr. Daniels said on Thursday.
The Sheriff’s Office statement followed a day of emotional statements from family members, activists and lawyers pushing for accountability in Mr. Brown’s death.
“If the shooting and the killing was self-defense or proper use of force, then show the truth,” the Rev. William J. Barber II said at a news briefing on Saturday. “If it wasn’t — show the truth. But Sheriff, D.A., law enforcement, you can’t just shut up. You must speak up.”
On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said the body-camera footage should be released.
Mr. Brown’s family is in part represented by Ben Crump, the well-known civil rights lawyer who was among those representing the family of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The shooting in North Carolina took place one day after a jury had found a former police officer guilty of murder in Mr. Floyd’s death and as police violence against Black people has come under intense scrutiny across the country.
In addition to demanding the release of the body-camera footage, some community leaders also urged Sheriff Wooten to step down.
“We are not requesting — we are demanding the resignation of Sheriff Wooten,” Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank County branch of the N.A.A.C.P., said at a news conference on Saturday.
The Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the calls for resignation, Maj. Aaron Wallio said.
Maj. Wallio confirmed on Friday that seven of the department’s 55 full-time deputies had been placed on paid administrative leave after Mr. Brown’s death.
Mr. Brown’s family was told that no drugs or weapons had been retrieved from the property or the car, Mr. Daniels, their lawyer, said on Saturday. The family is pushing to see the body-camera footage privately, he said. And the legal team has not yet seen the search warrant that officials say was being executed at the time of the shooting.
“This is a moment in time that we have to seize and take back accountability and transparency,” he said. Mr. Brown, he said, was “taken by the hands of the ones who are sworn to protect and serve.”
Michael Levenson and Christina Morales contributed reporting.
Author Jody Barr
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin
AUSTIN (KXAN) — It took less than four years for former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody to create a culture — an award of sorts — inside the sheriff’s office known as “WilCo Bada–,” according to a new lawsuit filed in federal court in Austin.
Chody’s sheriff’s office was “run like a state sanctioned gang, terrorizing citizens,” the lawsuit filed by Imani Nembhard, the victim in an April 2019 excessive force investigation involving a traffic stop by WCSO deputy Christopher Pisa, claimed. Nembhard’s legal team argued she was the victim of Chody’s failure to adequately train deputies and the department’s “culture of constitutional violations.”
The suit lists Williamson County, Chody and current WCSO deputy Pisa as defendants. Pisa was the deputy who pulled Nembhard over in the 2019 traffic stop.
Nembhard had her two daughters in the backseat of her car when Pisa stopped her.
Nembhard was stopped earlier in the day because her car, which belonged to her brother, did not have a front license plate, according to the lawsuit. She received a warning and described the first officer as “polite.”
At one point during the stop, Pisa ordered her out of the car and to put her hands behind her back. The deputy then slammed Nembhard face-first onto the ground, according to the lawsuit, and Pisa got on top of the woman and put his knee into her back.
Pisa pulled Nembhard’s braided hair “and ripped multiple braids out of her scalp,” the lawsuit contends. The woman was wearing a dress and was lying on the ground with her dress pulled up after Pisa forced her to the ground.
Nembhard said she was cut in her genital area after Pisa “scraped Ms. Nembhard’s naked body against the pavement,” the lawsuit states. The county jail had Pisa take Nembhard to the hospital where x-rays showed Pisa sprained the woman’s shoulder “when he slammed her to the ground,” according to the suit.
On Oct. 15, 2020 — 18 months after the traffic stop — the Williamson County grand jury indicted Pisa on one count of official oppression and one count of assault causes bodily injury. Pisa’s defense attorney Robert McCabe wrote in a press release at the time that the assault was captured on body and dash camera.
Nembhard’s legal team was denied access to the video by both WCSO and the Texas Department of Public Safety; both agencies citing pending prosecution as the reason to withhold the video recordings under the Texas Public Information Act.
But, two WCSO supervisors immediately reviewed Pisa’s video recordings and use-of-force report from the stop and “approved” of Pisa’s actions and “determined that Pisa’s conduct fell within department policy,” McCabe said in October 2020. Pisa resigned from the sheriff’s office two days after the Nembhard arrest.
Sheriff Mike Gleason, who defeated Chody in 2020, rehired Pisa soon after taking office in January. Gleason declined comment for this report.
“Pisa did not intentionally subject Ms. Nembhard to mistreatment nor to an arrest that he knew to be unlawful. Pisa was negligently trained by the Williamson County Sheriff’s office in all things it takes to be a police officer including knowledge of the laws of Texas, how to conduct a traffic stop and how to de-escalate a situation and was prematurely released into the community without proper guidance or supervision on how to do his job. Pisa is responsible for exposing these serious issues in training and supervision by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office. The evidence will show that Pisa suffered from a critically deficient lack of training and was scarcely supervised as a rookie deputy. It is our hope that this incident, at the conclusion of the investigation into other, still pending, use of force cases at the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, will ultimately be viewed as a training and supervision failure, rather than as an intentional abuse of power by Mr. Pisa”
Robert McCabe, Pisa’s Defense Attorney
Pisa had not been served with the lawsuit and his attorney had not yet read the filing to provide comment at the time of publication. Williamson County was served with a copy of the lawsuit on April 21.
Pisa charged Nembhard with resisting arrest and assault on a public servant, and she spent three days in the Williamson County Jail. The Williamson County district attorney later dismissed both charges against her and instead decided to prosecute Pisa for his actions in the video recordings.
“Pisa was shocked when he was asked to resign as he believed he was going to be rewarded with a steakhouse gift card by the department for his use of force against Ms. Nembhard, as was the custom and practice at the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department under the direction of Defendant Chody,” Nembhard’s attorneys wrote in the federal lawsuit.
Excessive force ‘incentivized’
As in the Javier Ambler lawsuit, Nembhard’s legal team painted the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office under Chody’s reign as an out-of-control department, bent on abusing citizens for the sake of television ratings.
Chody and his department were fixtures on A&E’s ‘Live PD’, a nationally-broadcast reality television program that hired camera crews to ride along with WCSO deputies as they performed traffic stops and answered service calls.
Ambler’s March 2019 traffic stop was never broadcast, but Austin Police Department body camera video shows two Live PD camera operators within feet of Ambler as WCSO deputies JJ Johnson and Zachary Camden fought to get Ambler into handcuffs.
The arrest happened after deputies tried to stop Ambler for failing to dim his headlights. Ambler would not stop for the deputies, and a 22-minute chase ended inside Austin city limits after Ambler crashed his SUV.
The APD recording shows Ambler tell deputies he couldn’t breathe as they tried to get his hands behind his back. The struggle included deputies hitting Ambler with a taser. Ambler died a little more than an hour after his arrest.
In Ambler’s wrongful death lawsuit, his attorney wrote: “Even after Ambler’s death, Sheriff Chody continued to create ‘entertainment’ with Live PD” and “actively encouraged” deputies to use force against citizens.
During the Texas Rangers’ investigation into the Nembhard stop, Pisa told investigators that Chody’s department had a “use of force incentive program” where deputies were rewarded with steakhouse gift cards, according to Nembhard’s lawsuit.
Both Johnson and Camden, the deputies in the Ambler case, were rewarded with gift cards, the Nembhard lawsuit contends. The Pisa gift card incentive program allegation was substantiated by other members of the department, the suit claims.
“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,” the lawsuit quotes Pisa as stating during the Texas Rangers investigation.
Not only were gift cards rewarded, but the lawsuit claimed using excessive force and having WCSO recognize a deputy for that also meant “getting on TV.”
“Defendant Chody encouraged his officers to engage in dangerous, high-risk police tactics because it made for more entertaining television in service to Live PD,” the Nembhard lawsuit stated.
A message sent to Chody via email had not yet been answered at publication.
Johnson and Camden’s legal team declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Nembhard’s stop was not recorded by Live PD cameras, but Live PD was in town recording with WCSO units the day before, Nembhard’s attorney James Roberts wrote in the filing.
Like McCabe, Nembhard’s lawsuit accuses Chody and the department of inadequately training rookie deputies like Pisa, which led to incidents like Nembhard’s. Pisa was patrolling Williamson County alone within four months of graduating WCSO’s academy.
“Once Defendant Pisa began patrolling in September 2018, supervisors also decreased his field training from the standard five to seven months to only 12 weeks,” the lawsuit alleged.
“The training procedures used for Defendant Pisa were inadequate as he did not receive the same amount of training in de-escalation, use of force, and conducting traffic stops that is standard in the industry according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and other departments,” Nembhard’s lawsuit stated.
The Nembhard lawsuit is filed in the Western District federal court in Austin. A hearing has not yet been set.
AUSTIN (KXAN) – Former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody has been arrested in Travis County and charged with tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony. This stems from the deadly arrest of Javier Ambler II in March 2019.
Chody, 50, was booked and released Thursday after posting $ 15,000 bail. KXAN camera crews were there when Chody — now sporting a beard — both walked into the courthouse and again when he walked out a short time later.
It’s the second time in six months grand juries in Travis and Williamson Counties have indicted Chody and former Williamson County general counsel Jason Nassour, who worked under County Attorney Dee Hobbs. Nassour turned himself in to Travis County authorities on Wednesday and posted bail.
Each of the indictments for Chody and Nassour are over Ambler’s death and specifically what happened to video evidence of that arrest. Camera operators recording for the now-defunct “Live PD” reality show on A&E were on scene and recording.
The indictments charge Chody and Nassour with evidence tampering, a third-degree felony, accusing them of allowing the Live PD video to be destroyed.
Chody did not make any statements walking into or leaving the jail Thursday. Chody’s attorney, Gerry Morris, was not available for comment until Thursday evening, according to Morris’ law office.
“Knowing that an investigation was pending or in progress, to wit: the in-custody death of Javier Ambler, intentionally or knowingly conceal or destroy audio and video recordings, by granting another permission to retrieve audio and video recordings with knowledge that the audio and video recordings would be destroyed no later than thirty (30) days after the audio and video recordings were captured, with intent to impair the availability as evidence in the investigation,” the Travis County indictment states.
Travis County District Attorney José Garza said Wednesday the Live PD video is still missing.
“Mr. Nassour was indicted today by a Travis County Grand Jury who found probable cause to believe that, knowing that an investigation was pending or in progress, Nassour tampered with physical evidence with the intent to impair its availability as evidence in the investigation,” Garza said.
“I know that these indictments will not bring peace to the Ambler family. No parent should have to bury their child,” Garza said. “But we remain committed to seeing this through on behalf of not just Javier Ambler, but also our community.”
On Wednesday, Ambler’s family thanked those involved in this new indictment.
“The jurors, Travis County, Williamson County, everyone who is trying to help us find some kind of justice and closure for us and for my son,” said Maritza Ambler, Javier Ambler II’s mother.
Deputies involved in Ambler’s death also arrested
On Tuesday, the Travis County grand jury also indicted the two Williamson County deputies who used a stun gun while arresting Ambler. The March 29 Travis County indictments accuse JJ Johnson and Zachary Camden of acting recklessly and ignoring pleas from Ambler that he couldn’t breathe as deputies worked to handcuff him.
Ambler’s encounter with Johnson and Camden started in Williamson County after Ambler didn’t dim his bright headlights, then wouldn’t stop when deputies tried to pull him over. The Williamson County grand jury did not indict Johnson or Camden during its review that ended with the Chody and Nassour indictment in September 2020.
Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick explained the reason for that was because Ambler died in Travis County — none of the alleged criminal acts against law enforcement happened in Williamson County.
Ambler led deputies on a 22-minute long chase out of Williamson County that ended inside Austin city limits when Ambler crashed. Austin police body camera video shows Johnson and Camden trying to handcuff Ambler as he lay on the ground beside his vehicle.
Since Ambler’s death happened inside Austin Police Department’s jurisdiction, APD took over the death investigation. An in-custody death report filed by APD Chief Brian Manley shows Ambler died 1 hour and 11 minutes after he was arrested.
The report shows Ambler’s manner of death as homicide but includes a note in the report that the homicide “includes Justifiable Homicide.”
The Custodial Death Report shows Ambler’s medical cause of death as “Congestive Heart Failure and Hypertensive Cardiovascular Disease Associated with Morbid Obesity, in combination with Forcible Restraint.” The report also lists other contributing conditions within Ambler’s medical condition as “Lymphocytic Myocarditis.”
The report also lists “law enforcement/correctional personnel” as the people “who caused the death.”
Attorneys for Johnson and Camden told KXAN neither deputy was “morally nor legally responsible” for Ambler’s death, citing Ambler’s health conditions detailed in the death investigation as the true cause.
The attorneys also indicated the Travis County District Attorney of carrying out “his political talking point,” of prosecuting officers. The deputies’ defense team also pointed out in a statement DA Garza did not ask either deputy or their defense team to testify before the grand jury.
“Contrary to widespread media mischaracterizations, Mr. Ambler was not pursued for failing to dim his headlights. He was pursued for the felony offense of evading arrest in a vehicle, and over the course of the twenty-two minute pursuit for an additional four counts of leaving the scene of an accident, one of which involved crashing through a homeowner’s fence,” the deputies’ defense attorneys Ken Ervin and Doug O’Connell wrote in a statement following the announcement of the Travis County indictments.
“Mr. Ambler’s fifth and final collision disabled his vehicle and prevented him from continuing to evade. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Ambler died because of congestive heart failure, hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity, and lymphocytic myocarditis. Mr. Ambler’s physical exertion in resisting the three officers it took to get him into handcuffs no doubt contributed to his medical emergency, but Mr. Johnson and Mr. Camden are neither morally nor legally responsible for his death,” the attorneys wrote.
Johnson and Camden are free on $ 150,000 bond. A condition of bond bans either man from working in law enforcement or working as security officers while under bond awaiting trial.
LARAMIE, Wyo. — Ask Aaron Appelhans if he ever wanted to be a sheriff, and he’ll say no.
“I don’t necessarily represent or identify with everybody in law enforcement,” said Sheriff Appelhans, who was appointed as sheriff of Albany County, Wyo., in December. “I come in with some different ideas of how to go about doing things.”
Sheriff Appelhans, a Black man, is now at the helm of one of the most historically white law enforcement institutions in Wyoming, one of the country’s whitest states. He is the first Black sheriff in the 131 years that Wyoming has been a state.
The appointment is symbolic for both Wyoming and the Mountain West, which has been insulated from much of the national reckoning over race and policing. Advocates of overhauling law enforcement say Sheriff Appelhans’s tenure will be a test of whether change can take root in a law enforcement culture that has historically entrenched itself against it.
“The concept of reform that everybody keeps talking about, it’s coming, whether they want it, whether they like it, or not,” said Charles P. Wilson, the chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement officers, which represents around 9,000 Black and brown officers across the country.
Sheriff Appelhans, 39, is inheriting a troubled department plagued by the kinds of problems that have been documented in sheriff’s offices across the region. Allegations of nepotism, selective enforcement and excessive force have swirled around the Albany County sheriff’s office for years, critics of the department say.
Even Sheriff Appelhans’s appointment was born of controversy: he was named to serve out the term of David O’Malley, who stepped down from the post amid a lawsuit over the shooting of an unarmed man, Robbie Ramirez, in 2018.
A Colorado native, Sheriff Appelhans carries little of the stiff formality often associated with sheriffs’ offices. He worked as a college-admissions officer for the University of Wyoming in Laramie before eventually spending a decade with the university’s police department, a path he says he never particularly envisioned. He talks regularly with the news media, opting to deal with reporters directly rather than through a spokesperson.
Sheriff Appelhans’s approach is a stark departure for a Wyoming sheriff, a storied, sometimes archaic institution central to the lore of a disappearing American West. Sheriffs’ offices are historically white, inaccessible to the public and politically powerful; as small a role as sheriff’s offices typically have in urban areas with large city police departments, they loom much larger in more rural states like Wyoming and Montana and in parts of the Midwest, and operate with comparatively little public oversight.
“They’re the top dog in the counties,” said Chris Walsh, the executive director of the Wyoming Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, which certifies law enforcement personnel in the state.
In such sparsely populated territory, small towns rarely can afford to set up their own police departments, so most law enforcement duties fall to county sheriffs. In Wyoming, sheriffs are elected to four-year terms with no limits; many hold office for decades.
“The sheriff, by nature, has far less oversight,” said Karlee Provenza, a Democrat in the State House of Representatives who is also the executive director of Albany County for Proper Policing, an advocacy organization. “The process is meant to put that oversight into a ballot box. And that is slow, it’s unreliable, and it’s not real accountability.”
Nestled in the high desert between the Front Range foothills and Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, Laramie is a relatively liberal political anomaly in the deeply conservative Wyoming ranchlands, a phenomenon bolstered by a robust population of college students at the University of Wyoming. Outside Laramie, sagebrush and cattle make up much of the rest of Albany County.
One of Sheriff Appelhans’s challenges will be rebuilding public trust following the 2018 shooting of Mr. Ramirez by an Albany County Sheriff’s deputy, Derek Colling. Mr. Ramirez, who was said by his family to suffer from mental illness, was shot once in the chest and twice in the back by Mr. Colling during a traffic stop. A grand jury declined in 2019 to prosecute Mr. Colling for involuntary manslaughter. Mr. Ramirez’s family has filed a $ 20 million wrongful death lawsuit against Albany County.
The incident brought national attention to the ease with which problematic officers can move unchecked from one department to another. Mr. Colling had previously been fired by the Las Vegas Police Department after being involved in two fatal police shootings and, later, violently beating a man who tried to film him.
Sheriff Appelhans did not want to talk about the incident or the lawsuit. But he acknowledged that the department’s history was one of the things that had made him wary as he considered whether to take on the job of sheriff.
“I think what he brings to the sheriff’s office is a calmness: He’s soft-spoken, but it doesn’t mean he’s a pushover,” said Linda Devine, a defense lawyer in Laramie who is a proponent of overhauling criminal justice. “I think Aaron has a really good heart, I think he has really good intentions, and I think he wants to bring this community together.”
Mr. O’Malley’s midterm departure means Sheriff Appelhans will not come up for election until 2022.
In the meantime, he plans to embark on an aggressive approach to bringing cultural change in the sheriff’s office. He is leading an effort to coordinate police response with resources like shelters, mental health professionals and support groups. Armed police responses, he said, can often escalate into situations that could be better handled with counselors or nonlethal force.
And, he said, he intends to diversify the 42-deputy sheriff’s office, where he said he is the only Black officer. Five deputies are women.
Sheriff Appelhans said he has unilateral authority over hiring decisions at the department and is actively seeking applicants, adding that he intends to recruit more Black, Latino and female officers.
“Law enforcement doesn’t do a very good job of reaching out to every other population that’s out there, especially women and people of color,” he said. “They just do a terrible job.”
Sheriffs’ offices in Wyoming have a long history of racial bias, advocates say. The issue confronted Sheriff Appelhans early in his tenure: On his second day in office, a Wyoming state representative, Cyrus Western, tweeted a racist gif from the movie “Blazing Saddles” in reference to Sheriff Appelhans’s appointment.
“I didn’t want to say I knew it was coming, but it didn’t surprise me when it came,” Sheriff Appelhans said of the incident. “It isn’t something that I haven’t dealt with throughout my entire life. Unfortunately it’s something that I’m used to.”
Mr. Western later apologized for the tweet, insisting he had not meant it as a disparagement of the state’s first Black sheriff.